THE First Minister of Wales looked and sounded visibly frustrated and agitated by questions from the press on issues pertaining to Wales in the pecking order for vaccination. Fielding a question from Rupert Evelyn of ITV about not answering questions on why Wales was in last place. The First Minister said:
“We are in broadly the same place as other parts of the united kingdom and I am not going to allow people exaggerate the gap where we are as though that were the most important thing to let people in Wales know about today. We are in the position we are in because we are building up our ability to deliver the vaccine because we are in the very earliest days of vaccination. The Oxford vaccine has been available for less than five days here in Wales.
“We have a very committed and purposeful plan to make sure that we make the maximum use of every drop of vaccination supply that comes to us here in Wales. We are building it up already. Thousands of people are being vaccinated in Wales today. That is the story; that is the real story that people in Wales need to hear about. The determination, the commitment of the NHS here in Wales to use every bit of vaccine that the plans are in place to do that and we will build things up to deliver this very important programme to people in Wales. There is no reason why the NHS in Wales cannot vaccinate at the same rate as other UK nations. Delivered 1,100,0000 flu vaccinations in three months at the end of last year. The Welsh NHS is used to mass vaccination programmes.”
Answering questions from Wales Online relating to capacity for vaccinations First Minister replied: “We don’t have an infinite supply of vaccine. What would possibly be the sense of organising for a supply you haven’t got. Having what could be potentially thousands of people standing there doing nothing because they don’t have the supply to deliver.
“I am very keen that we publish our plan next week, that we explain as much as possible to people in Wales about how the system in Wales will operate and how it will be built up. Setting targets when you do not know how much supply you have beyond a fortnight ahead simply does not make sense. Everybody is working incredibly hard across the whole of United Kingdom for to secure the supply we need to get in to the places it will be used and then to have people in place to deploy it.”
We asked the First Minister about logistical problems for vaccinating care home staff and related an issue whereby one care home had sent their two teams of staff for vaccination having to travel a very long distance because there was no refrigerator anywhere near. When they got to the facility they were told they would have to wait in the car park for three hours. The staff team did not return until near midnight. We asked if the First Minister was notified of logistic problems like something as simple as a lack of refrigerators for holding the vaccine in local areas.
The First Minister said: “I imagine it wasn’t just the lack of a refrigerator. The vaccine was the Pfizer has to be stored at a minimum of 70 degrees Celsius below freezing. It has been necessary while only the Pfizer vaccine was available, particularly while we were trying to deliver to care homes for that to be done from specific locations rather than being able to be done from everywhere.
“The 14 mobile units we are able to deploy which are focussing on care homes as their first priority so there is more capacity to deploy even the Pfizer vaccine more rapidly to care homes.
“The answer that will make the biggest difference is that as supplies of the Oxford vaccine ramp up that is much easier to use and that can genuinely be stored in a conventional refrigerator and that should certainly mean that there won’t be the need for people to travel the distances that have been necessary in some cases very early on when we are trying to use a vaccine, such has to be stored in such very unusual and specific circumstances.”
We asked the First Minister about the number of businesses who had not received financial help during the pandemic and what he could do to identify and help those businesses. Welsh Government are set to receive £227 million form UK Government. Business leaders and organisations are still warning that many smaller firms would not qualify for help. These are not big companies, they are small businesses often sole traders or not for profit businesses. We asked if the First Minister would commission a study or survey perhaps in conjunction with Business Wales to find out just how many businesses have not received a penny of aid and establish an emergency fund to ensure they survive in the immediate short term.
We also asked about the case of people who could not work more than 16 hours because of health issues and who were not eligible for furlough.
The First Minister responded: “I would be happy to look at that specific case and to see whether there is anything more that can be done to help there.
“You are right; despite the efforts that we have made to fill the gaps in UK Governments help for businesses there are still businesses that have not qualified for help here in Wales.
“I know that my colleagues Ken Skates and Lee Waters look all the time to see whether there are any other opportunities that we could find or any more funding we can find to go on filling those gaps. We do that very much with Business Wales. We are hopeful that we will have some more funding from the UK Government.
“If that is the case then that will give us a bit more scope to provide help to businesses who so far we have not been able to bring within the different schemes and regimes of assistance that we have tried to develop here. We pursue it all the time and we will do it alongside Business Wales as you suggest.”