Here are the coronavirus morning headlines for Thursday, March 4, as it has been revealed that the Covid vaccine rollout in Wales is set to speed up rapidly from next week thanks to an increase in supplies.
Wales’ chief pharmacist Andrew Evans says more jabs will be delivered than ever before as it is hoped that more than 30,000 doses a day could be administered.
It is hoped that one million people in Wales will have had at least a first vaccine dose within the coming days.
The latest Public Health Wales data also shows that 942,017 people have now received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, up 8,532 from the figure of 933,485 published 24 hours earlier. Seven days ago the Health Minister announced that all adults in Wales will be offered a Covid-19 vaccine by July 31.
Meanwhile, 124,781 people have now received both doses of the vaccine, a rise from 111,716 on Tuesday.
Last week, Health Minister Vaughan Gething said that all eligible adults in Wales will receive a coronavirus vaccine by July 31.
There has been a planned slow down in supplies over the past two weeks Mr Evans, the Welsh government’s chief pharmaceutical officer, told BBC Wales supply increases would allow Wales to “continue to lead” other UK nations on vaccine roll out, with teams focused on “keeping it that way”.
“There’s capacity within our programme to go as fast as supplies allow,” he said.
“It’s been low for the last couple of weeks but it’s significantly higher this week – between 150,000 to 160,000 doses – next week we could be back up to in excess of 200,000 – a capacity we know the NHS vaccination programme here has.
“We’ve already been building the vaccination infrastructure with at least 500 locations used at any one time and the increasing availability of the AstraZeneca means more flexibility and allow us to use it in more places.”
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Modified vaccines for variants to be fast-tracked without skipping on safety
More good news on the vaccine as the UK’s regulator has said that coronavirus vaccines tweaked to deal with variants will be fast-tracked without compromising on safety or effectiveness.
The approach will be similar to the regulatory process for the modified flu vaccine, to deal with new strains each year, with a brand new approval not required.
Scientists have previously said a Covid-19 variant resistant to the current crop of vaccines is likely to emerge at some point, but vaccines can also be adapted quickly.
The guidance states coronavirus vaccine manufacturers will need to provide robust evidence that the modified jab produces an immune response. However, lengthy clinical studies deemed not to add to the regulatory understanding of their safety, quality or effectiveness will not be needed.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said researchers are in a better position to measure protection by looking at antibodies in the blood after vaccination, reducing the need to wait and see whether or not people in a trial become infected with the virus.
It said this will “significantly reduce” the length of time it takes for the modified vaccine to be ready.
Third wave of cases is inevitable, says top doctor
One of Wales’ top critical care doctors has warned that a third wave of coronavirus is “inevitable”.
Dr Richard Pugh, chairman of the Welsh Intensive Care Society, said the timing and peak of the wave would depend on how and when restrictions were eased.
He said critical care staff were still stretched and the last thing they wanted was another surge in demand. The next review of restrictions in Wales is due to be held next Friday (March 12).
The Welsh government is taking a very “careful and cautious” approach to lifting restrictions.
Dr Pugh, who works at Glan Clwyd Hospital in Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire, called for lockdown easing to be “staged” and “informed by the data”.
He told BBC Wales: “I think a third wave will inevitably come.
“As these measures get released it’s the timing and the peak of that wave that we’ve got some potential to influence.
“When you look at critical care, the average age of people that come to critical care as a result of Covid is late-50s and these are people who are not going to be seeing the benefits of the vaccination programme that soon, so I am concerned about the potential of a third wave.
“From a professional point of view, the longer the measures stay in place, the feeling is that’s going to reduce any further peak in demand.”
Wales is still likely to have to have some field hospitals operational through next winter in order to manage potential spikes in coronavirus.
Infection rate is falling in Wales
Twelve more people have died with coronavirus in Wales and more than 200 new positive cases have been identified.
Figures from Public Health Wales published on Wednesday, March 3 reveal that 208 new cases of Covid-19 were confirmed in the latest 24-hour period, a rise from 170 reported on Tuesday. This brings the total since the start of the pandemic to 204,196.
The number of people who have died with coronavirus in Wales within a month of a positive test now stands at 5,356.
The infection rate across Wales is now 57.1 cases per 100,000 population based on the seven days up to February 26, a drop on 60.3 cases reported on Tuesday. Cases for your area here.