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Calls for a vaccination centre in Pembrokeshire as Oxford Astra-Zenica vaccine approved

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THE OXFORD ASTRA-ZENECA vaccine has been approved for use in the UK, with the first doses due to be given on Monday amid rising coronavirus cases. 100 million doses, enough for 50 million people have been ordered so far.

Commenting on the announcement, Preseli MP Stephen Crabb said: “The approval of the Oxford vaccine is really excellent news and a positive step towards defeating Covid-19. It’s easier to store and transport than other vaccines and will enable a much quicker vaccine rollout.

“With 100 million doses ordered, it’s now critically important that the Welsh Government focus on vaccinating care home residents and the over 80s. Those who are most at risk from the disease need the vaccine first.

“It’s also time for the local Health Board to set up a vaccination centre in Pembrokeshire – too many people are having to travel outside of the county to be vaccinated. The Oxford vaccine’s easier storage criteria means there is no reason why Pembrokeshire can’t have its own vaccination centre.”

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in Wales have been so far critical of the lack of a vaccine centre in Pembrokeshire – although it is expected that one will open in the near future, most probably at Withybush Hospital, with advertisements for staff already live.

Hywel Dda blamed logistics.

SIGNIFICANT LOGISTICAL CHALLENGES

When questioned by the Lib Dems, the Chief Executive of of Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed in a letter that the “significant logistical challenges” surrounding the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine are the reason that no vaccine centre has been set up yet in Pembrokeshire.

Steven Moore wrote: “We currently have two vaccination centres, in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. Our intention is to increase the number of vaccination sites; however, this is not feasible until we are given assurance over the Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine, which is anticipated to have significantly less logistical restrictions.

“We are aware and understanding of the community’s concerns surrounding when and how they will receive the vaccine. The Health Board is taking continuous guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) on priority groups for COVID-19 vaccination, and planning our activity in accordance with this.

“There are approximately 45,000 individuals to be vaccinated as part of the first two priority groups, which will take the Health Board some time to complete. Whilst we fully appreciate the public’s anxieties and eagerness to receive their vaccination, the Health Board has to be strategic in its delivery to ensure everyone is offered the vaccination in the most effective and efficient way.

“I can assure you that the Health Board will continue to communicate with its patients and the public living within our communities to ensure they are kept informed of any updates we have relating to vaccine delivery.”

Alistair Cameron, Welsh Lib Dem Senedd Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) said: “It is disappointing that people in Pembrokeshire who need the vaccination will still have to travel into Carmarthen or Ceredigion in order to get it until the new vaccine becomes available.

“Many will find it very difficult, if not impossible, to make such a journey.”

NO IMPACT FOR MONTHS

Wales’ health minister Vaughan Gething urged people to remember the impact of the vaccine would not be seen for a few months yet.

“I would be delighted if we had population coverage by Easter, but when you think about the scale of what we need to do, I wouldn’t want to give out false hope that everything will be done and dusted by Easter,” he said.

“We understand there are high expectations and excitement at the arrival of a second vaccine. However, it will take time to reach everyone as this is not an instant fix.

“We won’t receive all the doses at once and we have to be realistic about the scale and pace of delivery when we are vaccinating the entire adult population.

“We will not see the impact of the vaccine for some months and the pressure on the NHS will continue during this winter. It is essential that we all continue to play our part and do the right thing to protect each other.”

He also reminded people of the priority list for those to be vaccinated, following calls that teachers and other emergency service staff like police should be higher up on the priority list.

VIRUS SPREADING IN PEMBROKESHIRE

Tina Roberts, Welsh Lib Dem Senedd Candidate for Preseli Pembrokeshire, added: “We know the virus is spreading around Pembrokeshire and we need to ensure that the most vulnerable people and those in front line health and care work get the vaccination as soon as possible. Everything must be done to get the vaccine delivered in Pembrokeshire.”

Welsh Conservative Shadow Health Minister Andrew RT Davies said: “This is incredible news during an extremely bleak time, especially as we should be enjoying the festive season. It will hopefully be a very happy new year though with this vaccine being a turning point in our fight against Covid-19, with it being able to be transported at fridge temperatures. The Welsh Government will now have no excuse not to roll out vaccinations to the most vulnerable in Wales and can now start catching-up with other parts of the UK in delivering the vaccine.

“The vaccine is one truly made by the UK, with research funded by the UK Government, developed in England and the different aspects of the vaccine being made in North Wales and Scotland.

“With the UK Government investing over £88 million into the development of the vaccine, the UK Government is making sure the vaccine is made available for free across the UK, buying the vaccines for each nation and ensuring every country gets their fair share.

“The vaccine also shows Britain at its best. Not only did people in South Wales come forward to take part in the clinical trial to get this vaccine approved, but AstraZeneca have made it clear they will not seek to make a profit whilst selling the vaccine to developing countries.

“I know many people will want to thank the scientists and everyone involved in making this vaccine and a brighter future possible.”

PRIORITISE CARE HOME RESIDENTS

A social care leader has warned of catastrophic consequences if care home residents are not given “absolute priority” in the roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, spoke out because of concerns that the vaccine might be too late in reaching uniquely vulnerable residents at a time when care homes across Wales were at crisis point and the spread of the virus was rampant.

The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine – enough to vaccinate 50 million people. Wales is part of the UK procurement scheme, meaning it will get a population share of the jab from the UK Government. England’s health secretary, products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK.

Mr Kreft said: “It’s clearly fantastic news that the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine has been approved but it’s vitally important that it is rolled out very quickly because were are now in a desperate race against time, especially since this new super-strain of Covid-19 is so highly infectious and out of control, with community transmission rampant.

“Every care home manager will have everything crossed that the vaccine reaches their residents before the virus. There is great trepidation in the social care sector that it might not come soon enough.

“Residents in all care homes should be given absolute priority – along with the staff who provide care for them. Because of their age and infirmity, our vulnerable residents are uniquely at risk from this deadly virus.

“All residents and staff in care homes need to be vaccinated immediately – even in homes where they have had cases. Wherever they can be vaccinated safely they should be.

“If we fail to urgently protect care home residents we will be faced with catastrophic consequences. This really is a matter of life or death.

“The situation could not be more urgent because this new mutant strain of the virus is even more dangerous because of its frightening ability to spread so quickly .

“In the meantime, I am appealing to people across Wales to adhere to the hugely important safety protocols, including social distancing, wearing masks and frequent handwashing.

“This is a civic responsibility. We will only suppress this virus and get back to some kind of normality when approximately 80 per cent of the population are vaccinated, otherwise we will never get rid of it.

“The sector is facing unprecedented pressure. We are in a perfect storm because of the risk of transmission by asymptomatic staff at a time when many staff are isolating and agency staff are hard to come by to provide cover. Many care homes throughout Wales are at crisis point.

“It may well be that Christmas has turbo charged this virus and the exponential growth of community transmission is the greatest threat of all at the moment and this is something we must suppress, otherwise the vaccine will come too late for many people.

“Everybody in social care have worked unbelievably hard for the past 10 months and now the vaccine is within our grasp – we just need a final push to get over the line.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Very pleased that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been given the go-ahead. Over 25,000 vaccines have already been administered in Wales and this second vaccine will start to be rolled out here in the New Year.”

(Pic: Nicola Drake, an A&E consultant, receives the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine earlier in December 2020)

Business

£66m in Covid-19 business grants paid to Pembrokeshire businesses

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WHAT has been described as an incredible team effort has seen Pembrokeshire County Council pay out more than £66m to county businesses in Covid-19 support grants so far.

And across Wales more than £1bn has now been paid to businesses since the start of the pandemic.

In Pembrokeshire 9,171 grants have been paid across the 10 grants introduced by the Welsh Government.

The total amount of £66,370,548 paid in Pembrokeshire is the fourth highest amount paid out so far across Wales.

And the figures are growing all the time with further payment runs undertaken this week.

The team is now currently focussed on the Restrictions Grant and working their way through the applications.

Cllr Paul Miller, the Cabinet Member for the Economy, said: “I would like to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly to ensure that the money available to support businesses through this
difficult period gets to them as soon as possible.

“The sheer number of applications processed and the money delivered is a testament to those efforts and we’re not done yet.

“We have now moved onto the Restrictions Grant and we’re ready to continue the effort to help Pembrokeshire businesses for as long as it takes.”

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Health Board’s vaccination priorities questioned

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THE HEALTH BOARD has denied claims that the wait for Covid vaccinations has been ‘queue-jumped’ by Council employees and other non-front line workers.

On Thursday evening, a member of the public contacted The Herald via our Facebook page and asked us:

‘Can you please investigate and shine a light on the Pembrokeshire council employees, (some of whom are office staff who have been working from home since March, some are repair and maintenance guys.)

‘They have had phone calls to book and are booking appointments to have their vaccines done at the new vaccination centre in Haverfordwest at the records office run by the council. Some have been for jabs today and others have appointments for the weekend. They are definitely not in any of the first few priority groups and are taking vaccines away from those who need it more.”

When we put the issue to the local authority, Ros Jervis, Director of Public Health at Hywel Dda University Health Board said: “The decision was made this week to extend the vaccine invitation to staff groups critical to the COVID response, without which we would not be able to run essential COVID response services.

“Many of these staff are currently redeployed from frontline and patient facing roles and employed by the health board, social care services, independent or third sector care services and fall within the JCVI’s priority group 2.

“The invitation was only extended once we were absolutely certain frontline staff had been provided ample opportunity to receive a vaccine and once all stand-by reserve lists were exhausted. This approach has led us to having one of the lowest vaccine wastage figures, despite the challenges of our rural location.

“I’d like to reassure the public that vaccinating this essential group of staff has in no way delayed our rollout to the wider population and I can confirm the first invitations for members of the public to attend our mass vaccination centres will be issued this week.”

The Welsh Government’s strategy is to inoculate frontline staff and then Over 80s – that is its First Priority. Other people fall into different Priority Groups. With so many unvaccinated in the First Priority Group – over 80s – the question goes begging as to the basis upon which their claims to the vaccine were bypassed in favour of those in the Second Priority Group.

Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb told us: “I am very concerned about the claims being made of vaccine queue jumping. From the explanation given by Hywel Dda University Health Board, it looks like the priority list drawn up by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has now been ripped up and lots of other people are being invited to get vaccinated who are not in the priority groups.

“The whole reason for the priority list, which was agreed to by all four Chief Medical Officers from across the UK, was to save the greatest number of lives by vaccinating the most vulnerable people first.

“I have consistently raised concerns about the slow rollout in Wales. We are not where we should be by now especially when it comes to vaccinating the over 80s. There is limited supply of vaccines and the Health Board should be using these for the most vulnerable people in our community. It’s important for building confidence in the roll-out that people can see there is a clear plan being followed. I’m afraid situations like this undermine that confidence.”

The Welsh Government faced increasing criticism this week about its management of Wales’ vaccine distribution. On Monday, there was outrage about the First Minister’s remarks on Wales’ strategy which the Welsh Government spent the next four days trying to stem.

On Tuesday, Vaughan Gething, Wales Health Minister, claimed that 70% of over 80s would receive their first vaccine dose by this weekend. On Wednesday evening, figures released by Public Health Wales showed less than a quarter of over 80s had got their first shot.

Mr Gething later claimed he’d made “an innocent mistake”, saying: “There was a minor amount of confusion about the difference between care home residents, where we had vaccinated a majority, and over 80s.”

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Asylum seekers to be moved out of the former Penally Army Training Camp

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ASYLUM SEEKERS are to be moved out of the former Penally Army Training Camp; the Home Office have confirmed.

Camp residents will be moved out of the camp in small numbers, it is understood.

The confirmation by the government that they are intending to move all of the asylum seekers at Penally Camp into “suitable dispersed accommodation as soon as reasonably practical” has been welcomed by many local politicians.

The statement that they were hoping to start moves for small numbers of people from was made by Home Office Minister, Chris Philp MP, in an answer to a Parliamentary Question from Liberal Democrat MP, Wendy Chamberlain.

Home Office minister Chris Philp said: “It remains our intention to move all individuals in contingency accommodation into suitable dispersed accommodation as soon as reasonably practical. We are hoping to commence moves for small numbers of people out from week commencing January 18. However our immediate priority is to ensure that we continue to meet out legal duty to house destitute asylum seekers and ensure their safety and wellbeing.”

As we previously reported 20 residents of the camp were moved out following two protests in Tenby over standards of food, sanitation and accommodation.

The cost of policing the camp has been higher than expected (Pic Herald)

In welcoming the news, Alistair Cameron, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd Candidate for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire said: “Whilst the Welsh Liberal Democrats welcome this emerging information, we need to see evidence that people are moving out.

“The Asylum Seekers are staying in the middle of Winter in army barracks which are unsuitable as long-term accommodation.

“They are sleeping six to a room and run the risk of being infected with coronavirus. Many will have fled areas of conflict and they will have been deeply traumatized by their experiences.

“As a caring country, we should provide safe, warm and clean accommodation just as we would expect if we were in similar circumstances.

“I now urge the Home Office to move all of the asylum seekers out of the Camp as quickly as possible and to process their claims for asylum.”

There are 123 residents left at the camp, it was recently confirmed.

The crippling cost of running the Penally camp, with policing and security being more than expected, along with legal challenges regards conditions have most certainly contributed to the Home Office’s new position on Penally.

There was also an outbreak of Covid-19 in a similar facility in Kent where more than one hundred asylum seekers backing up the concerns of camp residents that there was insufficient social distancing in ex-military camps.

Demo to support asylum seekers in Penally (Photo Herald)

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