Fernie describes progress on coronavirus vaccine as 'good news'
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A CAITHNESS health campaigner has welcomed the news that a vaccine against coronavirus could be available by the end of the year.
Bill Fernie, the chairman of the Caithness Health Action Team, was speaking after early results from a vaccine – developed by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech – showed it could prevent around 90 per cent of people from getting Covid-19. The vaccine is one of 11 in the final stages of testing.
The companies hope to gain emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of November with a limited number of people receiving the vaccine this year, although it is likely to be next year before it would be widely used.
Mr Fernie said: "It is good news but I would think the rules on social distancing, self-isolating and the wearing of masks will continue for some time.
"It will be a long time before we know if the vaccine works and we see an end to this terrible illness and deaths, but it is great we are getting something and several other vaccines are nearing the end of their trials. It is good news for the health of the population."
However, Mr Fernie pointed out that the long-term consequences of the virus are not yet known.
He also gave his backing to a coronavirus home testing system – similar to the one set up by NHS Shetland – being established here.
As revealed last week there are large parts of the north where ordering a Covid-19 home testing kit is "a useless exercise" due to the postal delivery and collection system, as was highlighted by Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant.
She asked the Scottish Parliament Information Centre to research a list of all areas where tests could not be delivered.
The information showed people in Inverness and Moray were covered, but large areas were not including postcodes in Caithness, Sutherland, Ross-shire, Skye, Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles, Lochaber, Badenoch and Argyll and Bute.
Mrs Grant found out that NHS Shetland created its own system and has asked Scotland's health secretary, Jeane Freeman, if other rural areas could set up similar schemes so residents can receive quick and accurate results without leaving their homes.
Mr Fernie supports the idea. He said: "I welcome anything that improves the use of testing. That has to be a good thing, but it shows the constraints we are living with in the Highlands.
"If the Shetland model works and we don't have anything else then we should just go for it as it will be better than nothing at all."
Mrs Grant was told the Shetland scheme required "a lot of work" to set up. Under the system it takes about two days to get the results of the tests, which are analysed in Glasgow labs.
NHS Highland’s new chief executive, Pam Dudek said: "We are continuing to look for ways to expand testing and to facilitate home testing in areas without access to the postal service, but I am sorry that this is not yet in place and recognise the frustration that it causes."