The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine “cannot” be delivered to care homes in Wales at this stage, despite them being a priority group for receiving the jab.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said this was because of the need to store the COVID-19 vaccine at very low temperatures – at -70C (-94F).
In a written statement, Mr Gething said: “We have been exploring suitable options for initial deployment of this vaccine, in line with the JCVI advice, bearing in mind the constraints associated with its characteristics and the implications for delivery to all groups.
“In practical terms at this stage we cannot deliver this vaccine to care homes.”
It was announced on Wednesday that the UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for use.
The jab, which has been given the green light by independent health regulator MHRA, will be rolled out across the UK from early next week.
Wales’ chief medical officer has said the government is “currently exploring ways” to get the vaccine to care home residents, noting there are “particular challenges” around the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.
Although care homes are being prioritised for vaccinations – and Wales is “intending to follow that priority list” – Dr Frank Atherton said it would be “scandalous to waste the vaccine and not to use it wisely”.
Dr Atherton added: “We are currently exploring ways in which we could try to get vaccines to those residents of care homes – certainly the healthcare staff and social care staff will be a very high priority – and we’re looking for ways to work around that.
“But it is technically quite difficult to achieve that given that we have numerous care homes around the country and the model for delivering this particular vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, requires a small number of vaccination sites.”
He said the jab will have to initially be delivered at a “small number of sites”.
Noting that other vaccines do not have to be stored at such low temperatures, including the Oxford vaccine, Dr Atherton said: “As that comes online, as we hope, that will give us further ability to work our way through those priority lists.
“I can’t give you an exact date or a timeframe but we are working through that process as quickly as we can because those elderly residents are one of our highest priorities.”
Dr Gill Richardson, co-chair of the COVID-19 Vaccine Programme Board, echoed this.
“We will be prioritising those that we can safely deliver an effective vaccine to,” she told the news conference.
“At the very beginning, in the first week of immunisation, we’ll be bringing people to the vaccine and that will include care home staff.
“And then as we learn more about the vaccine – and we are all learning at a UK level – it’s very much hoped that a mobile model can be developed so that we can safely deploy to care homes without putting care home residents at risk of bringing them to a centre unnecessarily.”
It will not be mandatory to get the vaccine.
Those who do receive the jab will be given a credit card-sized NHS Wales immunisation card.
This will contain the vaccine name, date of immunisation and batch number of each of the doses given.
The cards will act as a reminder for the second dose and for the type of vaccine, as well as providing details of how to report any side effects.