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Vaccine booster programme 'on track' says Scottish Government

By John Davidson

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Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.

The Scottish Government insists it remains on track with the Covid booster and flu vaccine programme, despite people in Caithness struggling to get appointments at local clinics.

NHS Highland announced additional booster sessions after the John O'Groat Journal reported concerns, with some people saying they were unable to get an appointment after calling the number when they received an invitation.

An 81-year-old woman from Thurso, Margaret Jackson, said she waited on the phone more than an hour before being told the clinic was fully booked.

And Margaret Mackay, an 82-year-old Thurso woman, was in tears after trying four times to get through – only to be told there were no more slots available.

On Monday, the Scottish Government said the flu and Covid booster scheme was "continuing with pace" as it began issuing invitations to adults aged 60 to 69, as well as those aged 16 and over with underlying health conditions.

People should receive an invitation through the post and appointments will take place at a local community clinic from late October and throughout November.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “For those eligible for the Covid-19 boosters, appointments can only take place six months (24 weeks) after your second dose. As such, it may take several weeks before you receive your invitation letter. We remain on track with Scotland’s booster programme prioritising those at the highest risk for both Covid-19 and flu.

"We started this as soon as possible following the JCVI advice – that the booster dose should be offered no earlier than six months after completion of the primary vaccine course. It is important to note that many people in the original early priority cohorts of the initial vaccination programme had already had a six-month gap prior to this JCVI advice.

“In addition to delivering the boosters, this year we are offering a record number of free flu vaccines to help protect the people of Scotland. It is the biggest ever flu vaccination programme in Scotland reaching over four million people.

“Appointments for both vaccines are being scheduled based on clinical need and age and it will take until the middle of January for everyone to be offered their vaccines.

"Boosters will be offered to many of the groups who routinely have the flu vaccine to protect people from both illnesses. To support this, we are ensuring those most vulnerable are vaccinated first.

“But I would like to stress, everyone who is eligible will be offered a vaccination. If you haven’t received your appointment letter yet, please be patient. You do not have to do anything now – you will be contacted, notifying you of your appointment."

People aged 70 and over, people in older adult care homes, those on the highest risk list and frontline health and social care workers are currently being vaccinated, the government said.

Flu vaccinations are also being offered to children under two years old who have underlying health conditions, preschool children aged two to five, all school pupils, pregnant women and all NHS healthcare workers.

The government said that more than 1.5 million Covid-19 and flu vaccinations have been administered since September 6.

For those in the underlying health conditions group, the type of health condition will guide whether they will be given a flu jab, the Covid-19 booster, or both vaccines.

Details on who is eligible for these vaccinations and when they can expect an invitation are available on NHS Inform at nhsinform.scot/fluandcovid19vaccsguide.

Mr Yousaf added: “The flu virus changes every year, so you need to get the vaccine every year to stay protected. The vaccine cannot give you flu, but it can help stop you catching it, or suffering severe symptoms. The Covid-19 vaccine does not offer any protection from flu, you need to get the separate flu vaccine.

“Flu can be extremely serious and is very infectious. With Covid-19 still circulating in the community we can best protect those most at risk as well as ease pressure on our National Health Service and social care services by encouraging everyone eligible to get vaccinated against flu."

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