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It was the moment Lochaber had been waiting for, holding its breath for, over the last eight months. The first step on the route back to something resembling normal life for the region.
Our photograph shows one of the first people in Lochaber to receive the new Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 – Mhairi Mackinnon, senior charge nurse in the Combined Assessment Unit at Belford Hospital in Fort William, who is pictured receiving the jab on Friday from vaccinator Mandy Sillars, senior charge nurse in the hospital’s Outpatient Department.
Anne Boyd-Mackay, general manager for Belford Hospital, told the Lochaber Times of her delight that the vaccination programme had now started in the local area.
‘I am pleased to say that vaccination against Covid-19 started in Belford Hospital on Friday, December 11. The programme is beginning slowly but staff have been very positive about it arriving.’
Dr Tim Allison, director of Public Health for NHS Highland, echoed her comments, but also added a warning, saying: ‘This is great news, but we must remember that the vaccine alone is not enough to combat Covid and there are still cases in our community.
‘We need to continue to follow the Covid guidelines such as keeping social distance, hand washing and avoiding meeting with other households indoors at home.
‘For the five days around Christmas up to eight people aged over 12 from three households can meet. Sticking to the guidelines and taking up the offer of vaccination when that comes are the best ways to remove the threat of Covid.’
The vaccination programme is a huge exercise and will continue well into next year. Initial groups which will be vaccinated across NHS Highland will, as well as healthcare staff, include care home residents and social care staff who are most at risk of Covid infection. The programme will be scaled up as more vaccine is delivered.
Dr Jonathan Whiteside, clinical lead for Critical Care with NHS Highland, was the first person in NHS Highland to receive the vaccine.
‘I trust the science. I have been a doctor for 25 years and have always trusted the medicine regulators to provide safe and effective treatment. I see the Covid vaccine as no different,’ commented Dr Whiteside.
‘The only way to achieve herd immunity is through a mass vaccination programme which will protect staff, our patients and our families. I would encourage all those offered the vaccine to take it.’
Shadow Health Secretary and Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron said that after the UK Government’s securing of millions of doses of an approved vaccine, the next task is delivering the vaccine to those who most need it.
‘The role of the Belford, named as a ‘centre’ in the initial storage and distribution of the vaccine, will be crucial, as will our GP practices in actually providing the jabs to the people who need them,’ Mr Cameron told us.
‘Here in Lochaber we appreciate the challenge posed by our geography, but I have every confidence that by working together our health professionals will be up to this task.’
However, Mr Cameron has also expressed disappointment that the ultra-cold storage requirements needed, mean the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine cannot be delivered to some island communities.
He said: ‘This is all the more reason to make sure that plans are in place so that just as soon as the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is available, delivery can be swiftly rolled out to the communities concerned. It is really important that no part of Scotland is left behind.’.