Catch-up pledge for vulnerable to get vaccine

The MV Caledonian Isles under repair at Brodick pier last week

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Arran faces a bleak start to 2021 under level four lockdown until at least the middle of January, with the island effectively closed for business.

But while the island is still largely free of the virus, it remains a worry that in North Ayrshire, across the water, it remains amongst the highest infection rate in Scotland, as the second wave of the virus continues to steadily rise.

The latest figures of positive tests by local authority put North Ayrshire at the top with 197.4 per 100,000, with NHS Ayrshire and Arran having the fourth highest number of confirmed cases in Scotland with 8,609.

But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear that there will be no easing of restrictions on Arran, after she ruled out allowing travel to and from the island on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

As it turned out the weather did the job for her when the single Boxing Day sailing was cancelled because of the weather.

In a written answer to Arran MSP Kenneth Gibson the first minister said: ‘I know that it is unfair; the virus is unfair to everybody. That is the point; it is not fair.

‘We are having to take decisions that are extremely difficult for people. We cannot make exemptions to the rules, because any small exemptions that we made, other than really necessary ones for people who need to care for people, would all add up to greater risk of the virus spreading.

‘I cannot take away that impact for everybody, though I dearly wish that I could. However, I want people to know that I understand it and that we will do everything that we can, within the bounds of what we need to do to keep the virus suppressed, to mitigate the impact of it. None of this is fair on anybody right now.’

Meanwhile, the first doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine are understood to have made it on to the island with key health workers the first to receive it.

But Mr Gibson has expressed his concern to health secretary Jeane Freeman that the most vulnerable islanders may be being left behind because of the delay in distributing the vaccine to remote and island communities, although these have now been resolved.

Mr Gibson asked the health secretary: ‘Such communities, including those in Arran and Cumbrae in my constituency, often have a high percentage of older people.

‘Is a catch-up programme being implemented to ensure that vulnerable islanders, who would have already been vaccinated if they lived on the mainland, will now receive the vaccine?’

Ms Freeman replied: ‘Yes, there is a catch-up programme for precisely the situation that Mr Gibson referred to and a catch-up programme for not getting everyone at the one time, as we inevitably have with flu vaccines. It might be that every resident in a care home cannot be vaccinated. Someone might be unwell and vaccinating them might not be appropriate.

‘That simply demonstrates the complexity of the exercise. If people go out to vaccinate 100 people who are over 80, only 75 of them might be able to be vaccinated, so the 25 need to be remembered, and those people need to get back round to do them the second time.

‘The programme is complex, but there will always be catch-up programmes and mop-ups that are part of the process.’

Meanwhile, Christmas travel disruption was compounded after the MV Caledonian Isles had to be taken out of service last Wednesday due to an engine failure but was able to resume service on Christmas Eve.

The vessel will leave for its annual refit on Tuesday, which will take a week longer than originally planned.