SNP vaccination policy could only have resulted in the deaths of thousands more Scots

SNP vaccination policy could only have resulted in the deaths of thousands more Scots

by Max Young
article from Friday 22, January, 2021

THE UK IS ON TRACK to meet its target of 15 million Coronavirus vaccine injections by the 15th of February. Some 1.8 million jabs were given last week, and the daily average is accelerating. 

On the 18th of January the UK government began rolling out the vaccine in England to those aged 70 and over. As of the 20th, the UK has injected over 5 million doses – 7.47 doses per 100 of its population. The comparable figure for the EU-27 is 6 million, just over 1.4 doses per 100 people.  

In total we have given more vaccination doses than the 10 largest EU countries combined.  

As the SNP bemoaned the UK’s decision to opt out of the EU vaccination scheme, labelling the move “short-sighted and increasingly isolationist,” the British government set about securing priority orders for millions of vaccines. The EU’s centralised vaccine purchase scheme, meanwhile, has been an unmitigated disaster. Avoiding competition among states and opting instead to eradicate “vaccine nationalism”, the European Commission promised to create serious buying power with the pooled budget of participating states – thus securing strong terms for purchasing vaccines. 

Were it so easy.  

Arrogant bureaucrats omitted to order enough supplies, assigning an initial vaccine budget of only €2 billion – for comparison, the UK is set to spend over £12 billion purchasing jabs.  

The one vaccine that was ordered in high numbers – that of Oxford/AstraZeneca – has only just started its journey through the European Medical Agency’s sluggish approval process. The EU ordered so few Pfizer shots in the summer of 2020 that it is now at the back of the queue for more.  

What would have happened if the SNP had been able to implement its own approach to vaccination – full participation in the EU scheme and a reliance on the EU’s own regulator, the EMA, for approval? 

Let’s look at what has happened in European countries with comparable population sizes of around 5.5 million: Finland, Slovakia, and Norway (outside the EU but in the EU scheme). They have injected barely over 1 dose per 100. At that rate, the immunisation of the over 70s would not be complete for another 21 months or so – well into 2022.  

If Scotland had relied upon the EU it would already be at least a month behind.  Based on the Scottish death rate to date of 368 a week that would mean some 1,564 unnecessary additional deaths (368 x 4.25 weeks = 1564). A report in the Financial Times suggests the EU delivery will slip further. If it does – and Scottish delivery is already well behind the rest of the UK’s (see chart below) – Scotland could have risked being two or three months behind, costing some 3,000 or 4,500 avoidable deaths. Whatever the number, and we must hope that Scotland’s delivery catches-up with the rest of the UK’s quickly, more deaths would have been a direct consequence of SNP policy on vaccination procurement. 

And Scotland, if it were independent as the SNP most desperately desires, would miss out on other key vaccine benefits of being part of the UK. As The Scotsman pointed out, “one of the reasons the UK was able to become the first country in the world to approve its use was because of the expertise of the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Would Scotland, as an independent nation, be able to afford a similar agency with capacity to move so quickly?” Moreover, the Scotsman went on to say that while “re-joining the EU – which would not be as simple a process as some like to believe – would give access to the European Medicines Agency” this would take some years and only result in having access to the EU’s ineffective bureaucratic vaccine systems. 

Right now we are able to take advantage of the English-based Vaccines Manufacturing Innovation Centre (VMIC), a £158 million super-factory that will, when put into operation later this year, be able to provide doses for the entirety of the UK, including those to deal with new mutant Covid-19 variants. Based in Oxfordshire, the facility’s 70 million dose production capacity will give the UK vaccine self-sufficiency at a time when vaccine supply chains can be fragile. 

Scotland as part of the union has benefited from Britain’s effective vaccine purchase strategy. As a consequence, the Scottish government has been able to give 310,000 people their first dose – that’s 5.6 doses per 100, ahead of other European countries but still behind the 7.47 per 100 achieved by NHS England.  

As these figures indicate, even with the huge advantage of adequate vaccine supply from UK purchasing, the SNP has still managed to perform poorly.  

As of the 18th of January, the Scottish government was holding but had not used over 400,000 vaccine doses. According to official figures, 310,000 Scots have been given their first dose – the government has received more than 700,000. On top of that, the daily average for vaccinations fell last week from 16,000 to 13,383 last weekend. GP leaders are complaining of a patchy supply of vaccines that is not allowing them to vaccinate as many over-80s as planned and are asking for direct supply of vaccines to their practices to avoid Scottish Government bureaucracy. Nicola Sturgeon’s government is on track to be 100,000 vaccinations short of its key milestone – 560,000 vaccinations by the end of January. We can now expect to see this reached sometime in February. 

To rub salt in the wound, the SNP mistakenly published its detailed vaccination plan on 13th of January on the Scottish Government website. The plan contained confidential details of projected future vaccines that, if made public, risked jeopardising future vaccine supply. On top of that, the SNP health secretary on the same day revealed the whereabouts of a vaccine storage and distribution location that was intended to be kept strictly secret. 

Last week, the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed that military fast response vaccination teams have been at the ready to help with vaccine distribution in Scotland – they just weren’t asked until two days ago. The Armed Forces have proven themselves capable of playing a crucial role in logistical tasks. It is a travesty that Nicola Sturgeon has failed to ask for their aid until now.  

Despite this incompetence, Scotland’s situation when it comes to vaccines is a positive one, thanks to our place in the Union. It was the forward thinking and buying power of the British government that secured speedy access to effective vaccines. Were we forced to follow SNP policy and partake in the EU’s scheme, Scotland would be in a considerably worse condition, with many more months of deaths and lockdowns to contend with.  

Max Young lives and studies in Edinburgh. 

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