The vaccine rollout in Wales is shrouded in a total lack of clarity and the Welsh Government has some really important questions to answer.
Given that Wales has been injecting people with a vaccine for a month now, it is pretty damning that this is the case.
The ultimate way out of this crisis has always been a vaccine.
After the initial slow response of the governments of the UK back in March, where they wasted over a month of preparation time, allowing the virus to spread widely across the country, it has been clear that the only way we return to normal is by vaccinating most people in the country.
For the first few months this was a tentative hope. Every announcement by the government carried a caveat: “Vaccines take a long time to develop. We don’t know if a vaccine can even be found that will protect against Covid-19.”
But then in the autumn it became clear what can be achieved if you listen to and resource the cleverest people in the country.
Two vaccines reported incredibly promising results. Both the Pfizer vaccine and the Oxford vaccine appeared safe and with a level of protection that offered us a realistic way out of this. Suddenly, there was a roadmap out of this crisis.
On December 8 the whole of the UK suddenly felt a collective wave of positivity when Margaret Keenan in Coventry was the first person to receive the Pfizer jab. Three weeks later the Oxford jab followed suit.
The Welsh Government has been banking on the vaccine getting us out of this hole. So why do they seem so utterly unprepared for it? Nearly a month has passed since the first vaccines were put into Welsh arms and there are still a huge list of questions about how this is even going to work.
The lack of targets
Firstly, we have a total lack of targets and aims.
On Monday Vaughan Gething was pressed to set some interim targets for how many tests would be delivered by certain points and when all those over 80 could expect to receive a jab. He refused point blank to give any saying it may be possible in the future once he had chaired some meetings.
Across the border Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it is a “realistic expectation” that the top four priority groups could receive one dose by mid-February. This would mean everyone over the age of 70, care home residents and staff, health and social care workers, and the clinically extremely vulnerable. That is 2 million across the whole of the UK a week.
Now we know from the 100,000 tests a day target that Matt Hancock…err…“hit” back in April that these targets can be arbitrary and actually do more harm than good (several parts of England were actually low on reagents as reserves were used up ill-advisedly to spare Mr Hancock’s blushes). However a target would do two things:
It would give people in Wales an idea of when they can expect their lives to start returning to normal.
It would allow the Welsh Government to be held to account if they fail to deliver in a timely manner. What you can measure you can manage.
Now there is one argument in defence of the Welsh Government at the moment – they are not procuring the vaccines themselves. The UK Government is procuring the vaccines and then dividing them among the devolved nations based on population. Therefore there is an argument that the Welsh Government can’t set targets when they don’t know the supplies they will be getting.
However, this is a bit week as an excuse. There is nothing stopping them outlining what their aim is for the maximum numbers of vaccinations they could administer a week if there was adequate supply. Nor is there anything stopping them from offering a best case scenario if supplies were forthcoming.
The lack of a clear plan
Another question is why is there no clear plan?
Sources in the Welsh NHS, different health boards, Public Health Wales as well as GP’s have all said they are unclear what the actual strategy is for delivery of vaccines.
Just today in their joint press conference NHS Wales chief executive Andrew Goodall and Chief Medical Officer for Wales Frank Atherton talked about “developing plans” and “discussions with community pharmacists”.
It seems incredible that we have had to wait for the vaccine to be here to have these conversations. They have had so, so long to get this ready. Yes they are juggling a lot but surely delivering a vaccine is far and away the biggest priority.
How was this plan not in place from the second we heard that a vaccine may be effective? It has been three months since we realised that a reliable vaccine was on the horizon.
Now, again, there are defences for the Welsh Government here. The first is that the initial Pfizer vaccine was very hard to deliver owing to the -70c storage requirements.
This can obviously scupper even the best laid plans of mice and men. However, yet again this is not a surprise. We knew what was required in delivering this vaccine months ago.
If there is a comprehensive and detailed plan, for crying out loud just publish it. But the evidence suggests that there isn’t an overarching plan.
Take the vaccination centres. The detail seems to vary from health board to health board. Cardiff and Vale health board has said where they will be. Betsi has said. Swansea has said.
Cwm Taf health board is refusing to tell us where their vaccination centres will be (maybe they don’t know). Other health boards won’t either.
When people are stuck at home living in these really harsh restrictions, it’s fair for them to want to know what their elected representatives’ plan is for getting out of this. For the authorities to say that the public can’t be trusted with the information is bananas.
Even if we don’t know when vaccines will be done surely we can know where the vaccinations will be done, who will be doing them and how many a day they could vaccinate if they had the jabs.
The fact they are already behind on vaccination but we have no idea by how much
Another question to ask is why Wales is already behind other UK nations? Based on the latest figures Wales has vaccinated a lower percentage of our population compared to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
To be fair to the Welsh Government these figures are nearly two weeks old at the time of writing so the situation may have changed. But this brings us to another huge question with regard vaccines in Wales – where the hell is data?
At the moment Public Health Wales are publishing the vaccination rates on their site once a week. But even then the data is three days out of date anyway.
This is ridiculous. They are able to publish deaths, cases, test numbers, test positivity as well as where in the Wales all the cases were on a daily basis. Why can they not do this with vaccinations? Again you could argue that this is early in the roll out so cut them some slack but again – they have had months to plan this!
I asked Public Health Wales directly if they would start publishing the data more regularly and they simply replied: “Public Health Wales is working with WG and teams in other UK nations to determine an appropriate frequency of reporting.”
Nothing like some clarity right?
All the above questions are important to answer. The vaccination program is not just about providing vaccinations – it is about providing reassurance. When people speak to relatives in England who are over 80 and being contacted but their 80 year old nan hasn’t heard anything they start to get frustrated.
The Welsh Government needs to start bringing some clarity and transparency to the vaccination process. If they don’t provide answers to these questions people will lose confidence in their ability to get us out of this mess. If they do that it could affect compliance.
Let’s hope all these fears are misplaced. That by next week the vaccines will be rolling out, a plan will be published, targets will be set and daily updates published. Until then disquiet will grow to fill the void left by a lack of information.