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Health Minister’s update on Covid-19 vaccine deployment in Wales

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THE LONG-TERM response to the Covid-19 pandemic requires a safe and effective vaccine to be available for all, the Welsh Health Minister has said.

Vaughan Gething has released a statement confirming that the UK Government Covid Vaccine Taskforce, has been leading work on funding and procuring vaccines for the UK. Over a number of months, we have been closely engaged with them and other key stakeholders to monitor progress on their development.

The Minister said that during this period his team has established governance arrangements at a UK and all-Wales level with a range of partner organisations and stakeholders to work through the deployment and logistical issues for when a vaccine becomes available.

Vaughan Gething said: “Since May 2020 officials from all four UK nations have taken part in UK Covid-19 Vaccine Programme board to share expertise and intelligence. This operational delivery group has taken forward a number of work streams to address areas of UK wide work and reports to the UK Vaccine Task Force (VTF). Dr Gill Richardson (Senior Professional Advisor to the CMO) is the SRO for Wales who attends a dedicated weekly meeting with other nations.

“In parallel with UK wide engagement, the Wales Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery Programme Board was set up on the 4 June. This is led by Welsh Government with membership from stakeholders across the health and care system. Representation includes all health boards and trusts, WLGA, Public Health Wales, professional leads, the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, health and social care professional groups and patient representation through the third sector. The board identified ‘Once for Wales’ workstreams include planning and delivery; workforce surge recruitment, registration, training and mobilisation; disease surveillance; vaccine storage, distribution and safety monitoring; communications & marketing; infection prevention and control, including PPE, digital solutions, consumables and vaccine efficacy.

“As part of the preparation in Wales, the Chief Medical Officer has written to all Health Boards and Trusts in July to ask them, with key partners, to establish groups to rapidly progress local plans for delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine. In August the CMO wrote again for a further update.

“Each plan has been subject to review and assessment to ensure each Health Board and Trust has appropriate facilities and equipment to receive, store, prepare and administer vaccines in a safe and controlled manner and plans for rapid deployment through a variety of means (mass immunisation, mobile, occupational and wider primary care).

“The Chief Medical Officer will shortly write again to Health Boards and Trusts to give national direction to the implementation of the vaccination programme.

“I have met, on two occasions this month, with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the other devolved Health Ministers to discuss recent developments on the Covid vaccine and ensure alignment across the whole of the UK on vaccine deployment.

“It is important to recognise however, that none of the vaccines which have been procured by the UK Government have received the necessary regulatory approval. The UK Government has secured contracts to up to 350 million vaccines doses through agreements with six separate vaccine developers. This includes the agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech of which 40 million doses of their vaccine have been secured on behalf of the UK. If approved, Wales will receive its population share under the Barnett formula (4.78%). Once we know whether the vaccine meets robust safety standards, only then can the medicines regulator consider whether it can be made available to the public.

“From our ongoing discussions we are aware of the significant challenges of storing, distributing and handling a novel vaccine of this type. In particular its need for storage at very low temperatures. As more information becomes available, Health Board plans are being adapted to ensure they are sufficiently robust for NHS Wales to respond to those challenges.

“If approved, there will be limited supplies of this vaccine at first, so it will be offered to those at highest risk. I have already decided that priority for initial distribution of any new vaccine will be determined in accordance with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. The JCVI is expected to update its advice on priority categories before the end of this month.

“I am grateful for all the hard work that has been done in the service to date to get Wales ready to deploy a much-needed vaccine. I am pleased to report that all NHS organisations in Wales have embraced the challenge presented to them and are at advanced stage of planning for the arrival of a vaccine, this includes undertaking Wales-wide simulation exercises to test our distribution and storage arrangements and to ensure we can get vaccine safely to every part of Wales. Military planning expertise is assisting to support advanced logistical and operational delivery through a balanced programme portfolio, including live testing exercises.

“Once regulatory approval is received our health and social care staff in Wales stand ready to begin a vaccination programme for the people of Wales.”

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North Pembrokeshire school closures explained

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PEMBROKESHIRE’S education chief has explained the decision to keep six North Pembrokeshire schools closed today (Tuesday, 24th November).

The schools – which were also closed on Monday following the increased spread of coronavirus in South Ceredigion – are:

• Ysgol Preseli
• Ysgol y Frenni
• Ysgol Llandudoch
• Ysgol Eglwyswrw
• Ysgol Cilgerran
• Ysgol Clydau.

The Pembrokeshire schools are closed as a precaution as they share services – such as transport – with the Ceredigion schools.
Pembrokeshire County Council’s Director of Education, Steven Richards-Downes, said the decision to keep the schools closed was
based around a series of meetings yesterday involving the Authority, Ceredigion County Council and Public Health Wales.

He explained: “Due to the sheer volume of contact tracing work the Cardigan situation has resulted in – and the widespread nature of the cases now across the town – many contacts remain to be spoken to.

“The view of the Incident Management Team in Pembrokeshire was to keep the schools closed to allow the contact tracing teams time to get hold of everyone they needed to and then review the decision later today.

“Everyone can be assured that it is our intention to re-open the schools at the earliest opportunity once we are satisfied that there will be no individuals within school setting who should be self-isolating.

“There will be an announcement this afternoon about the status of the schools currently closed and teaching staff will be in touch with families to arrange blended and distant learning.

“Officers are working hard dealing with this situation and we do appreciate the inconvenience caused. However, our priority has always been tackling this pandemic and ensuring that we stop the spread of the virus.”

Mr Richards-Downes added that he was grateful to teaching staff, parents and pupils for their co-operation in what had been a challenging few days.

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Masks now advised in all secondary schools

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PUPILS across Wales are now being advised to wear facemasks in all communal areas of secondary schools (including playgrounds), colleges and on transport to and from places of learning by the Welsh Government.

Although not compulsory, the new recommendations have been made by ministers to ensure a consistent approach in tackling COVID-19 across Wales.

People picking up and dropping off children are also advised to wear face coverings too to minimise the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19.

The new guidance, aimed mainly at secondary schools, which the Education Minister has described as ‘easy to follow’ was announced today and now means that the only spaces where staff and pupils can safely remove their facemasks is in the classroom.

The majority of councils already require secondary pupils and staff to wear masks in corridors and on most school transport with those rules extended to primary pupils too in some areas.

Education minister Kirsty Williams said: “It is vital that young people, parents, adults and the workforce feel confident that all measures are being taken to ensure the educational environments are as safe as possible.

“We have been clear that we will keep every policy under review and will continue to follow scientific advice. The policy we are announcing today does just that”.

The new advice has been recommended by the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Group (Tag), which has been looking at the “possibility of wearing face coverings for older age groups in more circumstances, including on public and dedicated transport” and could “even include in the classroom on a risk assessed basis…. balancing benefits with harms to overall wellbeing of students.”

Tag is also looking at how feasible a mass asymptomatic testing programme in schools and colleges could be, the Welsh Government has said it is considering that approach.

Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “Face masks and coverings in communal areas could have serious consequences for Wales’ 2,500 deaf children, almost all of whom rely on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate.
“Socialising in corridors, break time chats and playground games are all rites of passage, but deaf young people now risk missing out because they can’t understand what others are saying. They’re also more likely to experience loneliness, isolation and bullying.
“Public health is the priority, but schools and colleges must move quickly to introduce reasonable adjustments to help deaf young people during this difficult time.”

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Two day centres to close temporarily as a precaution

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TWO north Pembrokeshire Day facilities for older people and people with learning disabilities are to close temporarily as a precaution following the rise in coronavirus cases in Ceredigion.

Bro Preseli Day Centre in Crymych and Wintern Day Centre, Goodwick, are to close temporarily from tomorrow (Tuesday, November 24).

The decision to close each site will be reviewed regularly.

It is emphasised that there have been no positive cases of Covid-19 detected at either site and the temporary closures have been put in place as a precaution.

 

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