Scots refused early Covid booster vaccines despite plea from Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon’s expanded Covid booster programme descended into chaos on its first day on Wednesday after people were refused jabs because they followed her own advice to bring forward their appointments.

The First Minister, as well as her Health Secretary and National Clinical Director, urged people this week to try to change their bookings, after her Government adopted expert recommendations to halve the time between second and third doses to three months.

However, people in their 40s and 50s who followed the plea were turned away by local health boards on Wednesday, which said they were still following the old rules.

Health boards said they were unable to change their policy because a legal instruction, known as a patient group direction, was not issued by a Scottish Government agency until Wednesday night.

Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Health Secretary, both called on Scots to bring forward their booster jab appointments

Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Opposition parties claimed the fiasco would undermine public trust in the vaccine programme and mean appointment slots and vaccine doses would be wasted at a time when the booster programme needs to urgently speed up.

The SNP Government has said it will adopt Boris Johnson’s target of delivering boosters to all adults by the end of next month. However, it has not yet set out any detailed plans of how the new target will be met.

Several health boards, including Borders, Grampian, Fife and Forth Valley, continued to advise people not to book booster appointments less than 24 weeks after receiving their second dose, directly contradicting SNP ministers.

‘Nothing short of a shambles’

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: "This is nothing short of a shambles.

"The need to accelerate our booster programme has never been greater, so we cannot have people being turned away.

"The change to JCVI guidance is clear, and all those eligible should be able to receive their booster as quickly as possible."

Ms Sturgeon said on Tuesday that she had personally booked an earlier booster appointment online, following the new guidance being issued.

Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Health Secretary, said: "We would encourage people, where possible, to [bring forward] an appointment booked."

One person, who received their second dose four-and-a-half months ago, was told by Prof Leitch on Twitter that they would have no problem getting a booster at a vaccination centre at Glasgow Central Mosque on Wednesday.

However, the venue was one of those to turn away people with appointments, due to the updated guidance not being in place.

Several health boards uploaded urgent pleas to social media accounts for people vaccinated less than 24 weeks ago to stay away. Some people claimed they had received boosters despite waiting less than six months, adding to the confusion.

‘Health boards need to receive the legal instruction’

A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said: "Health boards need to receive the legal instruction to change how and when medicines, including vaccinations, are administered. This process is underway, but at present we continue to advise everyone to select a booster appointment not less than 24 weeks after their second dose."

A spokeswoman for NHS Borders said that the new advice "had not been implemented yet" because the health board was waiting on "national protocols which are a legal requirement that we need prior to changing vaccination procedures".

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish LibDem leader, said "thoughtful and conscientious people" who had followed advice to get a booster as soon as possible had been let down.

The Scottish Government issued an apology on Wednesday to people who had been turned away and said it had issued instructions to all health boards to vaccinate "in line with the latest advice".

"Following JCVI advice, clinical and legal guidance requires to be put in place for vaccination teams to implement the changes," a spokesman said.

"This has been progressed urgently and instructions have now issued to all health boards to vaccinate in line with the latest advice."

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