Plans to expand vaccination programme revealed as 'game-changer' jab is rolled out

Wales' health minister has outlined plans to increase the number of mass vaccination centres as the rollout of the "game-changer" Oxford jab begins.

Speaking at the Welsh Government's first coronavirus press conference of 2021, Vaughan Gething said they will increase the number of vaccination centres to 22, more than 60 GP surgeries will offer the Oxford vaccine and mobile units will be set up.

He also said the NHS in Wales would begin training a "range of healthcare workers" to administer the vaccine and they have plans to work with pharmacists, dentists and optometrists to provide vaccination clinics.

Mr Gething described the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as a "game-changer" because it can be stored in a fridge and is easier to transport.

Wales has already received the first 22,000 doses of the Oxford vaccine with the rollout having begun on Monday.

The health minister refused to set any targets for Wales' vaccination rollout.

Ralph Evans, 88, receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: PA

Pontcae Medical Centre in Merthyr Tydfil was one of the first GP practices in Wales to administer the Oxford vaccine on Monday afternoon to eight patients from Cwm Taf Morgannwg health board area.

The first to receive the jab at the small practice was Ralph Evans, 88, who gave a thumbs up as he was injected.

Husband and wife Tom Hier, 92, and Pat Hier, 88, were the first couple to receive the vaccine at the practice, and said they were "relieved" to have been called at 11am to be told they were among the first in line.

Mrs Hier told the PA news agency: "It was exactly like having the flu vaccine. It's a step forward. It's not going to provide you with 100% immunity but at least you've got some immunity.

"It gives you something to look forward to, and hopefully things will improve."

She said current restrictions made her miss "the very, very simple things", adding: "It's only as you get old you appreciate how incapable you become and how dependent you are on other people's goodwill."

More than 35,000 people in Wales have received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine so far.

Frontline health workers have been prioritised at the 14 mass vaccination centres but care home residents and over-80s have also had the jab.

The JCVI has drawn up the priority groups for a vaccine.

The Welsh Government will be following the priority list agreed by the Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation - as is the rest of the UK.

It means Wales "most vulnerable" will get the vaccine first in a bid to save as many lives as possible and these people will be invited to to a clinic for an appointment.

Everyone will be offered two doses with the second dose to be given up to 12 weeks after the first. 

Wales' level 4 restrictions mean non-essential shops are closed and stay home rules are in place.

Mr Gething told the press conference that the new Covid-19 variant is "spreading quickly throughout Wales."

He said cases of coronavirus in Wales "remain very high", though rates have fallen back from "incredibly high levels" seen before Christmas.

"The overall incidence rate for Wales has fallen from a high of 636 cases per 100,000 people on December 17 to 446 cases today," Mr Gething said.

"This is still far too high. There have been falls in most parts of Wales, except in North Wales, where we are seeing cases rise quickly. We believe this is because of the new fast-moving strain.

"It's too early to know if these falls are because of the Christmas period and fewer people coming forward for testing or if they are early, positive signs of a sustained slowing of this awful virus."

Mr Gething said that while the number of people being tested had fallen, the testing positivity rate across Wales was 25%. 

When asked about education, Mr Gething said the Welsh Government had "deliberately made a choice" before Christmas that schools could open in a flexible way in January.

"We're expecting updated advice from our own scientific and public health experts over the next few days," he said.