British armed forces personnel begin administering Covid injections in Scotland today for the first time as Nicola Sturgeon’s government faces a spiralling vaccine crisis to rival the EU’s.
Scotland currently finds itself well behind neighbouring English regions in its vaccine delivery, prompting Scotland Secretary Alister Jack to reach out and offer assistance. Only 56% of Scots aged 80 or above have been vaccinated compared to 84% of residents in the North East and Yorkshire and 83% in the North West of England.
After being offered “any support or assistance we can give you” by Jack, Sturgeon told MSPs yesterday that the army would be brought in to speed up Covid inoculations while also insisting her own government’s roll-out was “working well”.
Sturgeon said: “Any help that the armed forces give to Scotland…it’s not a favour from the Secretary of State for Scotland – it’s our armed forces that the people of Scotland pay for through their taxes.”
“So let’s forget the suggestion that it’s somehow the UK Government doing Scotland a favour.”
After it was agreed to bring in the army, Jack responded: “The British Armed Forces are carrying out vital work to support the rollout of vaccines across Scotland. Now more than 200 military personnel are helping to get needles into arms. I would like to thank all of our fantastic military personnel for their great work in helping fight the pandemic, right across the UK.”
Jack’s Tory colleague, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives at Holyrood said it was “fantastic news” adding: “That’s exactly the kind of shot in the arm the programme needs and it will go a long way to restoring confidence across the country.
“We always knew the number of vaccinations would rise when mass centres opened and we’re all delighted to see that’s finally happening.”
The armed forces have formed a pillar of the English roll-out since planning began late last year.
At a pivotal Downing Street Covid briefing right at the beginning of the year, logistics supremo, Brigadier Phil Prosser said: “I am a proud member of the armed forces, an organisation drawn from all communities across the UK and the Commonwealth. My team and I are honoured to be able to serve those communities and protect our nation at home.”
Brigadier Prosser added that the army’s 21 teams that form the ‘Vaccine Quick Reaction Force’ would be put on standby ready for rapid mobilisation.
It was revealed yesterday that half of those teams will be moved to Scotland to assist the desperate scale up in vaccinations.
They are joined by 98 members of the Royal Scots Dragoon guards who will set up 80 vaccination centres across Scotland.
The escalation in Scotland’s beleaguered vaccine programme is just the latest example of the administration in Edinburgh relying on resource from England at a time when Scottish Nationalists are putting plans together to win independence with a controversial independence taskforce.
Last month, it was revealed emergency calls for ambulances had been diverted to nearby hospitals in England after a Covid surge overwhelmed Scottish services.
Yesterday, Labour accused Sturgeon of not only overseeing subpar vaccination levels, but a “postcode lottery” of delivery with NHS Lothian and Fife vaccinating just 10.6% and 11.1% of the population respectively, almost half the percentage in the Western Isles.
The first minister said the discrepancies were down to “how different health boards are organising this to take account of the differences between urban areas and rural areas.”