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Covid-19 vaccine approved for use next week in the United Kingdom

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THE UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

The paves the way for mass vaccination.

Britain’s medicines regulator, the MHRA, says the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe to be rolled out.

The first 800,000 doses will be available in the UK from next week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

People should wait to be contacted by the NHS, he added.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff are top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

But because of the limited stocks and need to store at -70C, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place at hospitals so care home residents may not be immunised until later.

ID cards for those vaccinated  

PEOPLE who have received a coronavirus vaccine in Wales will be given a card detailing the date and type of the vaccination.

The announcement came from health minister Vaughan Gething after Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine was approved by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

In a written statement Mr Gething said: “Those receiving a COVID-19 vaccination will be given a credit card-sized NHS Wales immunisation card which will have the vaccine name, date of immunisation and batch number of each of the doses given handwritten on them.

“These will act as a reminder for a second dose and for the type of vaccine, and it will also give information about how to report side effects.”

Responding to the announcement that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the MHRA, Darren Hughes, Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation said: “It’s excellent news and a very significant milestone in the country’s battle to get COVID-19 under control. This vaccine will help us to save many lives over the coming months.

“However, we can’t be complacent now. We will need to continue with the measures we’ve all become familiar with such as social distancing, hand hygiene and wearing a mask where it is appropriate. We know people have made a significant effort this year and made incredible sacrifices as well, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“We are ready to deliver the largest vaccination programme the NHS in Wales has ever undertaken. This will be a huge logistical challenge, which has been thoroughly prepared for and tested.”

How will the vaccine be delivered in Wales?

DUE to the specific requirements of the vaccine it is not just a case of sending it all over Wales. The vaccine is going to be stored in two sites in Wales where health boards will have to pick it up from.

“We are aware of the challenges of storing, distributing and handling the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine,” said Mr Gething. “In particular its need for storage at very low temperatures of below minus -75ºC +/- 15ºC.

“Two specialist sites have been identified as appropriate delivery sites for the vaccine and local Health Boards will collect the vaccines directly from the two sites.”

The first group to get the vaccine will be older adults resident in a care home and care home workers though it not just a matter of distributing directly to care settings. “In practical terms at this stage that we cannot deliver this vaccine to care homes.” said Mr Gething.

The Welsh Government will be using the advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to decide who will be the first people to be vaccinated.

The order advised is:

  1. Older adults’ resident in a care home and care home workers
  2. All those 80 years of age and over and health and social care workers
  3. All those 75 years of age and over
  4. All those 70 years of age and over
  5. All those 65 years of age and over
  6. High-risk adults under 65 years of age
  7. Moderate-risk adults under 65 years of age
  8. All those 60 years of age and over
  9. All those 55 years of age and over
  10. All those 50 years of age and over
  11. Rest of the population

 

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Health

Urgent second dose vaccine appointments issued for mass vaccination centres

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SECOND dose Oxford AstraZeneca appointments for mass vaccination centres across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire have been urgently issued for week beginning 24 May, Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed. 

The health board has identified a technical issue that has caused a delay in appointment letters being issued to people who received their first Oxford AstraZeneca at a mass vaccination centre between Monday 8th March and Sunday 14 March.  

This issue has now been rectified and the health board has urgently posted appointment letters to everyone affected. SMS (text messages) have also been sent to those the health board has mobile numbers for.

 

The technical issue has also resulted in some people who had a first vaccine at a GP practice receiving an appointment inviting them to attend a mass vaccination centre. If you received your first vaccine at a GP practice you must attend your GP practice for your second dose to ensure the correct vaccine is available for you.  

If you have received an invite to attend a mass vaccination centre in error, there is no need to contact the health board as these appointments have automatically been cancelled. Please disregard the mass vaccination centre invite and keep your appointment with your GP or wait for them to contact you with your appointment time if you have not already received one.

Bethan Lewis, Interim Assistant Director of Public Health at Hywel Dda UHB, said: “As soon as we identified there had been a delay with second vaccine appointments being issued to people who had their first Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine at a mass vaccination centre between Monday 8th March and Sunday 14 March we immediately reissued all letters and sent SMS text messages wherever possible. 

“These appointments are due to start Monday 24 May so it is possible some people may receive their appointment letter late and we apologise for this but please don’t worry if this happens to you.   “If you receive your letter and the appointment has past, please contact our booking team on 0300 303 8322 so we can book you a new appointment. We will make sure you have your second appointment on schedule. Please wait to receive your letter before phoning us. We thank you for your understanding and patience.” 

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Health

Withybush woes as new consultation launched

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• Health Board says coronavirus has had a major impact on services • New hospital could be built between St Clears and Narberth
• It’s a similar plan which led to protests involving thousands of locals in 2018

MORE than 18,000 people have signed the petition opposing the decision to downgrade Withybush General Hospital, but that was three years ago, and it seems that the health board may have forgotten the locals’ anger.

The health board is launching a consultation exercise to “deliver on our long-term commitment for a healthier mid and west Wales”

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “The global pandemic has had a major impact on all areas of our lives so it’s crucial that the health board considers, reflects and learns from this extraordinary period. This engagement exercise will allow the public to tell us in their own words how COVID-19 has affected their health and care, and access to it.

“I would encourage as many people as possible to participate.” 

Under similar proposals to those first unveiled in 2018 a new district general hospital would be built on the border between Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire providing A&E services, while in some of the options Carmarthen’s Glangwili hospital would also lose services, including A&E.

The people of Pembrokeshire protested. They protested outside the hospital, they marched through Town, they took their placards to the Senedd.

There was no one, it seemed, who wanted a new super hospital ‘up the line’.

Save Withybush Hospital protests back in 2018 in Haverfordwest

Ten months ago, the First Minister and Health Minister of Wales were united in their decision not to offer any reassurances to the safeguarding of A&E services at Withybush Hospital.

With the July 2020 u-turn of Cwm Taff health board not to remove services at Royal Glamorgan Hospital, the ministers have come under pressure to offer reassurances to the future of Withybush services.

Mark Drakeford said last summer that the decision was down to local health boards, with Vaughan Gething, Health Minister taking a similar stance.

Withybush has already seen the downgrade to its maternity services, with it now being a mostly daytime service with expectant mums with pregnancy complications or those giving birth after 5pm mostly having to travel across the border into Carmarthenshire to give birth. Other departments have also been shrunk on what locals call “a salami slicing away of local services”

Speaking at a Plenary last year Vaughan Gething, was asked by Pembrokeshire MS Paul Davies, the Welsh Government’s position on the delivery of A&E services at Pembrokeshire and if they would remain at Withybush.

Mr Davies said: “You’ll be aware, there is a strong campaign to retain A&E services at Withybush General Hospital.

“Given the recent news that Cwm Taff health board has decided to retain A&E services at The Royal Glamorgan Hospital, the people of Pembrokeshire are now looking at that decision and, quite rightly, asking for the same safeguards.”

The Health Minister said that the decision to overturn the removal of services at Royal Glamorgan Hospital, was made after they were able to recruit more staff which would help them safely deliver that service. Recruitment problems have often been cited as a key problem at Withybush Hospital in recent years.

Mr Gething said, “The member will also know, over a long period of time, the challenges that have been faced in delivering healthcare across Wales and the plans for the future delivery of healthcare.”

He added “The health board is now planning for the continued provision of essential and key services alongside caring for patients affected by Covid-19.”

However, although the Welsh Government is desperately trying to distance itself from its unpopular decisions on local health provision, the buck stops with it.

In November 2018 hundreds of people took to the streets to oppose the downgrading of Withybush. But now it is clear that the plan of a new hospital further away from Pembrokeshire’s population centres and industrial complexes is still on the cards.

Surprisingly, the exact cost of the new hospital, and its exact location, is yet to be determined but the health board is hoping to finalise a ‘programme business case’ in the coming weeks which will then be submitted to the Welsh Government this summer.

A full business case can be signed off by March 2024, The Pembrokeshire Herald understands.

Protestors outside Withybush at the 2018 protests

The health board has said the plan to reshape the way people receive medical treatment in west Wales is part of the “ongoing process” that is now under way with an engagement exercise running until June 21.

According to a new eight-page document published by Hywel Dda entitled ‘Building a Healthier Future After Covid-19’ the pandemic has been a “big challenge” which created an “extremely difficult” period.

The document, seen by The Pembrokeshire Herald, states: “We are progressing plans for a new hospital in the south of the area, somewhere between and including the towns of St Clears, Carmarthenshire, and Narberth, Pembrokeshire. At this early stage, we would welcome site nominations you may have and your views on how we compare possible sites.”

The health board is inviting people’s opinions on a post-Covid future in general and how healthcare is provided across the region today and in the future – pointing out that health and wellbeing centres have been opened in Aberaeron and Cardigan while plans are in the pipeline for similar facilities in Llanelli and Cross Hands.

While many aspects remain uncertain at this stage one thing that has been decided is that the new hospital is to be built between St Clears and Narberth because “this location is the most central to most of the population in the south of the Hywel Dda area”. The site will also have at least 35 acres of “developable land” with “appropriate transport infrastructure”.

A spokesman for the health board said: “The new hospital will be our main site for the network of all our hospitals, providing both urgent and planned care. It will enable us to have more consultants in permanent posts being available more of the time and specialising in areas of care. Consultant-led services will be available 24-hours a day seven days a week.

“We will provide rapid access to specialist assessment and treatment, discharging people as soon as possible so they can receive rehabilitation closer to home. Emergency and unplanned care will be provided in a different building to planned care therefore avoiding the disruption or delay that can occur from high volumes of emergency cases.”

The public is also being asked to nominate sites for a new hospital based on four criteria: (1) The nominated site must be within the zone between and including St Clears in Carmarthenshire and Narberth in Pembrokeshire. This location is the most central to most of the population in the south of the Hywel Dda area. (2) The nominated site should be a minimum of 35 acres of reasonably developable land. (3) The nominated site should have realistic prospects of obtaining planning permission for a new hospital. (4) There should be appropriate transport infrastructure for a major hospital site.

The health board said: “Anyone can have their say on the plans by emailing the health board at hyweldda.engagement@wales.nhs.uk or by calling 01554 899056.”

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Health

Update on local vaccinations for residents aged 18 to 39

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ALL adults aged 18 to 39 living in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire will be offered Moderna or Pfizer BioNtech for their first COVID-19 vaccine, Hywel Dda University Health Board can confirm.

Today’s announcement states, as a precaution, unvaccinated adults aged 30 – 39 years who are not in a clinical priority group at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease, will be offered an alternative to the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, where possible.  This is already the case with adults under 30 years.

Fewer than 200 people under 39 are booked to receive a first Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine at the Picton Centre on Saturday 8 May. The health board is making every effort to contact everyone affected to offer a new appointment at a session offering the Moderna or Pfizer BioNtech vaccine.

All mass vaccination centres in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire will provide the  Moderna, Pfizer BioNtech and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines. Please attend your appointment as planned as your clinic will have the appropriate vaccine for your age.

Ros Jervis, Director of Public Health for Hywel Dda UHB, said: “We understand that today’s announcement may cause some concern. The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine, cases of blood clots with low platelet counts continues to be extremely rare and is thought to be a reaction to first exposure.  The decision to stop using the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine in those under 40 who have no clinical risk factors reflects the excellent progress we are making in bringing the pandemic under control and the increased supply of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. 

“If you have received a first dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine without suffering any serious side effects, it is recommended that you should complete the course and receive the second vaccine when invited, irrespective of age, in line with JVCI advice.”

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has already saved thousands of lives and remains safe and effective for the majority of the population with over 1 million people have received the AZ vaccine since January.

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