There is “no point” in Wales using up its vaccine supply in the first week and have “all our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do for another month”, Mark Drakeford has said.
Wales has already received 250,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but as of Friday last week had just used 126,375 doses – less than half that amount.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, the first minister said the vaccine has to last until February and is therefore not being used all at once.
“There will be no point, and certainly it will be logistically very damaging to try to use all of that in the first week and then to have all our vaccinators standing around with nothing to do for another month,” he said.
“The sensible thing to do is to use the vaccine you’ve got over the period that you’ve got it for so that your system can absorb it, they can go on working, that you don’t have people standing around with nothing to do.
“We will vaccinate all four priority groups by the middle of February, alongside everywhere else in the UK.”
Responding to Drakeford’s comments, Andrew RT Davies MS for South Wales Central, said: “Astonished to hear this morning Labour’s First Minister Mark Drakeford doubling-down on his decision to delay deployment of Pfizer vaccine supplies.
“Lives and livelihoods across Wales are at stake. Stop the excuses and just make it happen.”
Dr Andrew Goodall, chief executive of NHS Wales, told the programme the health service in Wales had been legally obliged to hold onto all supplies of the Pfizer vaccine to give the second dose within the then three-week requirement.
“The access to the Pfizer vaccine has been the same across the UK, particularly with the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency guidance which actually changed around the second dose on January 4,” he said.
“It was in line with the legal advice and the MHRA handling arrangements.
“The second dose needed to be retained up until the point that we were authorised to proceed with all the residual numbers of those vaccines, and that was a consistent standard that was in place for the whole of the UK.
“The vaccination activity has been increasing at pace and scale.
“We have a target, as with the rest of the UK to ensure that we’re able to make the first four cohorts by mid-February, and at the moment we expect that our activity profiles will allow us to ensure that those targets are met by mid-February.”
Wales is currently lagging behind the other nations in the UK in the rollout of the coronavirus vaccination.
As of last week, 3,215 per 100,000 people had received the vaccine in Wales, compared with 3,514 in Scotland, 4,005 in England and 4,828 in Northern Ireland.
Drakeford defended the figures, saying he did not believe this was “the most important issue”.
“These are very marginal differences and I don’t think these are the most important issue,” he said.
“The most important issue is that we are on track to deliver a vaccination to all the top four priority groups, alongside all the other nations of the UK, by the middle of February.
“The thing that limits us at the moment is supply and we’re using every bit of the vaccine that we are getting.
“We know that that supply will be ramping up rapidly over the coming weeks and we are ready to use all the supply that we are getting in Wales and on track to deliver vaccination to the priority groups.”
The first minister also told Sky News that about 150,000 people would be vaccinated in Wales by the end of Monday.
“We’re getting more supplies of vaccine this week, particularly the Oxford vaccine and we’ll be able to use all of that,” he said.
“We’re on track to vaccinate the top four priority groups by the middle of February, alongside the other UK nations.
“There’s a long way to go with vaccination. We’re going to be doing this for months and months, not just for weeks.”