No issue is more important than making sure Scotland’s coronavirus vaccination programme is rolled out successfully, Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs.

The First Minister was speaking before Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced vaccinations in care homes could begin from Monday December 14.

Ms Freeman said talks over lunchtime on Thursday had confirmed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – the first Covid-19 injection to be approved – can be transported in an unfrozen state for up to 12 hours, and can also be broken down into smaller packs in “certain conditions”.

Ms Freeman told MSPs this makes the vaccine “more useable with minimum wastage for care home residents and our older citizens”.

She said: “In effect we can take the vaccine to them, or close to them, and we will begin that exercise from December 14.”

Earlier at Holyrood, the First Minister said she, Ms Freeman and the “entire Government” are currently focused on the vaccine delivery programme.

The first vaccinations are due to be administered in Scotland next Tuesday.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed Scotland should receive 65,500 doses before that date.

Because the vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-low temperatures, the Scottish Government has purchased 23 special freezers to keep it in the correct conditions.

The freezers will be placed in “vaccine deployment centres” in every health board area in Scotland – including the islands –  and Ms Sturgeon said the first vaccinations will take place in “close” proximity to these sites.

The First Minister stressed: “There is no issue more important to this Government right now than making sure this vaccination programme works effectively and efficiently, that as soon as we have supplies of vaccine they are used to vaccinate people in the order of priority.

“The focus of me, the Health Secretary and the entire Government is on making sure all the appropriate steps are taken.”

Coronavirus vaccinations are due to begin on Tuesday (BioNTech SE 2020/PA)

She added vaccine doses will be used “as soon as they become available” and “as closely as possible in line with the order of prioritisation” experts have set out.

With two doses of the jab required, the 65,500 doses initially expected will be enough to provide protection for 32,750 Scots.

Meanwhile, Ms Sturgeon confirmed a further 51 deaths from coronavirus and 958 more positive cases have been recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours.

Ms Freeman said the first phase of vaccinations should be completed by the end of spring 2021.

In a statement to Holyrood, she said: “On the basis that we receive the vaccine supply we expect, when we expect it, we should vaccinate the first phase by spring of next year.

“The rest of the adult population will follow as quickly as possible thereafter.”

As well as being offered to all adults over 18, Ms Freeman said the Pfizer vaccine will be given to 16 and 17-year-olds with underlying health conditions.

However it is not suitable for pregnant women, or those planning on conceiving in the next three months.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The Health Secretary insisted the Scottish Government is “on track” to recruit the 2,000 vaccinators who will be required to administer the injections.

When vaccinations start on Tuesday the whole-time equivalent of 160 staff a day will be required to deliver them, with Ms Freeman saying this workforce is in place.

Some staff currently administering flu vaccines will be transferred to work on the Covid-19 programme, with the Scottish Government also “actively recruiting” new workers as well as drawing from the wider clinical workforce of GPs, pharmacists, dentists and optometrists.

A national phone line is being set up early next year which will initially be able to give people information on the vaccine.

But in later phases people will be able to call it to book an appointment for vaccination.

Ms Freeman also said information will be delivered to every home in Scotland from January on the vaccine and its safety, as well as letting people know when they can expect to get an appointment.

She told MSPs: “A vaccination programme on this scale is a significant logistical challenge and requires a major nationwide effort.

“But it is one we undertake with optimism and determination to succeed.

“There will no doubt be glitches along the way and unexpected difficulties to overcome, but science has excelled once again to give us hope.”