No change to school Christmas holidays in Scotland

Proposals to standardise the break across Scotland from December 18 to January 11 had been under consideration.

Christmas holidays: No plans to change the dates in Scotland, John Swinney says. Tom Merton via Getty Images
Christmas holidays: No plans to change the dates in Scotland, John Swinney says.

No changes will be made to the school Christmas holidays, the education secretary has said.

Talks had taken place about standardising the break across Scotland from December 18 to January 11.

The proposal was designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus after families were told they could gather at Christmas.

John Swinney told the Covid-19 committee: “I’ve written this morning to the education and skills committee to confirm that the government intends to make no change to the school holiday arrangements.”

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He had been responding to Donald Cameron MSP, committee convener, who had asked for an update on the government’s position on a possible extension to the school holidays.

However, individual councils could still take the decision to extend the holidays in their local authority.

In his letter to Clare Adamson MSP, convener of the education and skills committee, Swinney said: “The public health advice that I received is to keep schools open as planned as the controlled school environment is more preferable to social mixing outside of school if schools are closed early.

“In addition, vulnerable children may be at greater risk if they are out of
school for an extended period. The view of the chief social work advisor is that being in school is a very significant protective factor for the most vulnerable children and the longer children are out of school the more chance there is of hidden harm.

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“Public health advice is, on balance, that there would be less transmission of Covid-19 through children and young people being in school than mixing out of school.

“Adding this to the issues around vulnerable children and the need for childcare for key worker children, public health advice is to not change term dates at either end. I am also mindful that an extension to the school holidays could cause significant difficulties for working parents.”

Teaching union the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said its members would be disappointed and angry.

General secretary Larry Flanagan said the decision showed “a complete disregard for the concerns and welfare of teachers” and described the position as “political”.

He added: “The EIS had asked that schools move to remote learning in the final week to ensure that senior staff did not find themselves having to work during the Christmas break to deal with any Covid outbreaks and also to minimise the risk for staff, pupils and parents of infections ruining the Christmas break.

“Allowing this would have helped protect staff, students and their families during the festive season and reduce the risk of pupils or teachers being required to self-isolate over Christmas – while also ensuring that education provision continued via remote learning.”

However, parents group UsForThem Scotland said its members welcomed the decision.

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Organiser Jo Bisset said: “Taking children out of school for another week would have damaged their education at a time when it’s never been under greater threat.

“It would also have caused parents a severe headache in terms of childcare, especially those who rely on shift work for income.

“The Scottish Government has been right to keep schools open in the face of pressure from the unions, and parents will be very grateful for this latest commitment to education.”

In late November, it was confirmed up to three households will be allowed to mix indoors over a five-day period at Christmas.

They will be able to travel between council areas and across the UK during December 23 and 27 to form a ‘bubble’ – but each household must only join one bubble.

More on:

Further 88 coronavirus deaths reported in Scotland

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 176,533 in the past 24 hours.

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Deaths: Further 82 people have died from coronavirus.

A further 82 people have died in Scotland after being diagnosed with coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that the total number of deaths now stands at 5970.

The total number of confirmed cases of the virus has risen to 176,533 – a rise of 1201 in the past 24 hours.

There are 1938 people currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19, a decrease of 78 from Wednesday.

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Of that number, 142 patients are in intensive care.

The First Minister also told parliament that Scotland’s R number has dropped below 1 as the country has made “progress in suppressing the virus”.

Speaking ahead of First Minister’s Questions, Sturgeon told MSPs: “That is not unexpected given the declining cases that we have seen recently but it is very welcome and it provides further evidence that the lockdown restrictions are working.

“That said, case numbers remain very high and our NHS remains under severe pressure.

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“The number of people in hospital with Covid-19, for example, is still approximately 30% higher than at the peak last spring, although we are starting to see a welcome stabilisation in those figures.”

The First Minister said data was not yet available for the number of people who have now been given the coronavirus vaccine, however she said 60% of over 80s have now received the vaccination.

She added that those over the age of 70 would begin to be vaccinated next week, with the aim of rolling out the first vaccine to this age group by mid February.


Prime Minister visits Scots hospital and vaccination centre

Boris Johnson says the union is crucial to rolling out the vaccine and supporting the economy.

STV News
The Prime Minister met staff at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in Scotland to emphasise the importance of the union in fighting coronavirus.

Johnson visited the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, the Lighthouse Laboratory testing centre in Glasgow on Thursday morning.

He also met Army troops setting up a vaccination centre in Castlemilk, bumping elbows with soldiers as he was shown around the venue.

Later, he will visit the Valneva factory in Livingston, where a vaccine is being produced, leader of the house Jacob-Ress Mogg told the Commons.

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Johnson was expected to say being part of the UK was crucial to rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine and supporting the Scottish economy during the pandemic.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon believes that should the SNP win a majority at the Holyrood election – currently still scheduled for May – that would be grounds for a second independence referendum.

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Boris Johnson bumps elbows with a serviceman in Castlemilk.

Opinion polls, including those for STV News, have repeatedly suggested there is now majority support for Scotland leaving the UK.

But Johnson has repeatedly said there is no case for a fresh vote, after Scots opted to remain in the union in 2014.

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Sturgeon, who described Johnson’s visit to Scotland is “not essential” during the current lockdown, accused the Prime Minister of being “frightened of democracy” in his refusal to back another poll on the union.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s Covid-19 briefing on Wednesday, Sturgeon said: “I am not and never would be saying that Boris Johnson is not welcome in Scotland. He is the Prime Minister of the UK.

“But beyond that, everybody is welcome in Scotland. Well, maybe not a certain ex-president that I kind of suggested earlier on maybe rather didn’t come to Scotland, but I won’t divert down that road.

“Boris Johnson is not unwelcome in Scotland, even if I had the ability to stop him.”

Downing Street defended Johnson’s decision to visit Scotland, describing it as “fundamental” to his job.

His official spokesman said: “These are Covid-related visits. You’ve seen the Prime Minister do a number of them over the past few weeks.

“It is obviously important that he is continuing to meet and see those who are on the front line in terms of those who are providing tests, in terms of those who are working so hard to deliver the vaccination plan.”


Hospital staff ‘overwhelmed’ by workload and illness

STV News was granted special access to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

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Nurses feel overwhelmed by the workload, trying to prevent infection and battling coronavirus itself, frontline workers have warned.

Claire McPake, the senior charge nurse for the Acute Medical Unit at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, said that although staff have been given support, they are tired.

STV News was given special access to the hospital as health chiefs try to stress the importance of following lockdown rules.

Earlier this month, senior medics at Monklands Hospital and nurses from across Scotland said the health service was “on the edge” as it tried to cope with the crisis.

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Ms McPake said: “We are always busy at this time of year, and after Christmas or New Year. It has been particularly worse this year.

“People are not being discharged as early as they would normally be.

“They are all being seen, but there is bit of a delay getting patients home so there is a delay getting patients in.”

The Acute Medical Unite receives patients from A&E and from the newly established SATA (Specialist Assessment Treatment Unit).

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Ms McPake said that only patients with a negative test are supposed to come from SATA, and they are then placed into big rooms.

But if a person is then discovered to have Covid, the room has to be carefully cleaned before it can be used again.

She said: “Yesterday we had a patient in [a] big six-bedded area, who came in and had symptoms on an X-ray.

“This is a coincidental finding, and we decided this patient probably had Covid.

“So this becomes what is known as a contact bay, because there are already other patients there, so if anyone gets moved out or goes home, we have to keep those beds closed.”

The nurse said the contact patient gets moved to a single room and the room gets cleaned, meaning there are others on trolleys in A&E that cannot come in because there is no space.

In order to make the room safe again, staff must strip the beds, wash them down and then remake them.

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Ms McPake said it can be a “vicious circle… if you’ve not got enough bodies on the floor”.

The nurse had Covid herself back in April. She lost her sense of taste and smell, and the latter has still to return.

Claire Harrow, clinical director for medicine, said: “Staff are exhausted. They’re unwell. A lot of them have either had Covid or have had relatives who have had Covid. They’ve got their own personal pressures.

“We’ve got parents, children, loved ones, all those stresses and strains that other people have. In addition to that uncertainty, and also the anxiety about what we’re doing… but also what we’re not doing.”

Claire Harrow, Clinical Director for Medicine.

Ms Harrow, who has been in her post for two years, said her duty to look after patients and staff has never been been more important, but that the relentless pressure was taking its toll.

She said: “It’s not a simple illness, it’s not flu, everyone gets it slightly differently, so there are people who will bounce back quickly but there are other people who are really quite severely affected in many different and unpredictable ways.

“We can’t just expect that once someone’s Covid leave is up they’re going to be able to bounce back and step back in.”

On the ward, Ms McPake described how a lack of face-to-face interaction with relatives of patients has made the job emotionally draining.

She said: “We have end-of-life patients. That’s been very, very difficult on the nursing staff. That’s what I find most challenging.

“The end-of-life relatives and trying to let relatives in, and trying to limit the number of relatives coming in through the door.

“If it was my mum, I’m one of four, we would all want to go in and visit my mum.

“It’s very difficult if you’ve got a big family and you’re trying to say to people you can only have one relative to come and visit.”

Additional reporting by Gianni Marini

Man rescued from water after car plunges into harbour

Emergency services rushed to the scene at Nairn harbour on Wednesday morning.

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The car is hauled from the water.

A man has been rescued from the water after the car he was in plunged into Nairn harbour.

Coastguard rescue teams, firefighters and police were called to the scene in the Highland town at about 11am on Wednesday.

HM Coastguard said: “On arrival, it was found that a car had accidentally been driven off the quayside into the River Nairn at the mouth of the harbour.

“The man was rescued from the water and taken to hospital as a precaution.

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“The vehicle was later recovered from the harbour.”

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The car ended up in the water at Nairn harbour on Wednesday morning.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “We became aware of a vehicle having entered the water at Nairn harbour shortly before 11am on Wednesday.

“The male driver was rescued from the water and has been checked over by the ambulance service.

“The vehicle was subsequently recovered.”


Leitch: Covid vaccine passport system likely in future

Scotland's national clinical director says vaccine passports are an 'interesting concept' likely in the future.

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A coronavirus vaccine passport system is likely to be introduced in future, Scotland’s national clinical director has said, though he urged caution around the level of protection jabs offer.

Professor Jason Leitch said vaccine passports are an “interesting concept”, after former prime minister Tony Blair called for the UK to use its G7 leadership to introduce such a scheme globally.

In evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Covid-19 Committee on Thursday, Prof Leitch also said coronavirus is likely to be present in some sort of “endemic” form for years to come.

Asked about Mr Blair’s proposal for a global system to verify vaccinated individuals, Prof Leitch said: “I agree it is an interesting concept, the WHO (World Health Organisation) have begun to look at it.”

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He stressed the latest scientific evidence suggests vaccination is not a “binary” state, but there is precedent for travel restrictions based on vaccination – including yellow fever certificates.

Prof Leitch said: “I think we will probably move towards that. I haven’t seen the exact details of what Mr Blair’s think tank have said but I imagine it’s relatively sensible, it’s about doing it globally rather than just an individual region of the world.”

Prof Leitch was also asked how long people are likely to have to live with coronavirus.

Saying the answer is “really difficult”, he added early data suggests the vaccine is working to reduce mortality, and it is likely to cut transmission.

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He said: “The difficult news about how we live with it is I don’t know what the virus is going to do.

“I don’t know if it’s going to ‘vaccine escape’ – so I don’t know if at some point the vaccine is not going to be as reliable and we’re going to have to chase it like we do with flu.

“I don’t know what the rest of the world is going to do and I don’t know how populations are going to behave.

“We will probably have to live with this virus in an endemic way in some form and we just don’t know what that looks like.

“We do that with flu just now, there is no science that suggests this virus is suddenly going to disappear or suddenly get fed up and die.

“It looks as though we will live with Covid in some form, probably with routine vaccination over time, for years to come.”


Two deaths reported to Crown and 85 Covid cases at care home

The first case was detected at Grandholm Care Home on January 8.

© Google Maps 2020
Grandholm Care Home, Bridge of Don.

A major coronavirus outbreak at a care home in Aberdeen has seen 85 cases and two deaths confirmed

Grandholm Care Home, in Bridge of Don, first detected the virus on January 8. Following mass testing, the majority of the other cases among residents were found.

The Crown Office has confirmed two deaths have been reported at the home.

The home is now closed to new admissions and non-essential visitors and is working with NHS Grampian and Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership to contain the spread of the virus.

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The home said that most of the staff and residents who tested positive have had either mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.

Next of kin for each resident who tested positive have been informed.

The 79-bed facility provides care to over 65s and people with dementia and dementia-related conditions.

A spokesperson for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has established a dedicated team to deal with reports of Covid-19 or presumed Covid-19 deaths in care homes or where the deceased may have contracted the virus in the course of their employment.

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“The Covid-19 Deaths Investigation Team (CDIT) receives and deals with those reports and will work with the relevant agencies to ensure that all necessary and appropriate investigations are undertaken and that each investigation progresses as expediently as it can.”

A spokesperson for NHS Grampian said: “We are aware of 85 detected cases of Covid-19 associated with the Grandholm Care Home in Aberdeen. Cases have been detected amongst both staff and residents.

“The first case was detected in the home on January 8. A majority of resident cases were detected following repeated mass testing exercises.

“We are working alongside Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership to provide additional support and guidance to the home management team. Care continues to be provided to all residents as normal.”

A spokesperson for Grandholm Care Home said: “I can confirm that following an outbreak of coronavirus in the home, Grandholm Care Home is now closed to new admissions and non-essential visits, in line with Scottish Government guidance.

“We are working closely with all relevant authorities to contain the spread of the virus.

“Of the residents and staff who tested positive, the vast majority have shown either no symptoms, or mild symptoms only. A number of staff and residents have already completed the self-isolation perdion, and the remaining residents are due to complete isolation on Sunday.

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“As soon as the first resident tested positive for the virus, we acted immediately to inform the relevant authorities and arrange for all residents to be tested.

“The next of kin of each resident who has tested positive for the virus have been informed, and we will continue to regularly test staff and residents and keep all relatives informed accordingly. In line with Scottish Government guidance, all affected team members are now self-isolating and the affected residents are being cared for in isolation.

“We continue to follow all Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland advice in relation to infection prevention and control, and do everything in our power to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all residents and team members.”

Heavy snow expected as two yellow weather warnings issued

The Met Office has issued two weather warnings for snow across the country.

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Snow: Wintry weather conditions expected across Scotland.

Scots are set to wake up to wintry weather conditions as two weather warnings for snow have been put in place. 

On Thursday, the Met Office issued two yellow alerts for snow across the country.

A warning was put in place for parts of the central belt, the Scottish Borders and Strathclyde from 4am until 3pm.

Meanwhile a second alert for snow was put in place across Grampian, Tayside, the Highlands and parts of the west coast until 9am on Friday. 

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Heavy rainfall has also affected parts of the country, with motorists warned to drive with care as surface water affects roads. 

Gritters have been deployed to treat roads across the country.

STV meteorologist Sean Batty said: “The initial risk overnight and into Thursday morning will be across central and southern Scotland, although mainly above 200 metres.

“At higher levels here there could be a few centimetres of snow by Thursday morning, for the likes of Peebles, Moffat, Wanlockhead, Lanark and East Kilbride.

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“So a spell of snow is likely on the higher parts of the M74, A71 and possibly the highest parts of the M77 and M8 for a time. 

“I reckon the most disruptive snow will be as this whole system drifts north of the central belt, across the Highlands, Perthshire, west Aberdeenshire, northern Stirlingshire and eastern Argyll where as much as 20cm could settle by Friday morning above 200 metres.

“This could lead to road closure, with roads such as the A9, A95, A96 and A939 at risk of some awful conditions for a time. 

“If we get as much as 20cm by Friday morning in some of our higher villages there is a potential for them to be cut off as local roads become impassible. 

“The mix of rain and hill snow will ease into Friday to leave much brighter and drier conditions for the weekend, although we should expect some very low temperatures at night with lows of -15C possible in the Highlands. 

“While this spell of cold weather has for the most part not been overly severe, it’s lasted for a good while now.

“I’ve been looking through the stats for winter so far and somewhere in Scotland has reported a low of -5C or lower on 24 nights so far this winter, which is the most we’ve had since the severe cold of winter 2010/11. 

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“We will continue to see this battle between warm and cold air well into February, and with severe cold setting in over Scandinavia in the coming weeks, this will need close watching as an easterly air flow would bring it our way.”


Reassuring the BAME community that Covid vaccine is safe

Faith leaders, academics, celebrities and medics join forces to dispel myths surrounding the coronavirus vaccination.

STV News

By Ewan Petrie and Kevin Scott

Sir Geoff Palmer rolls up his sleeve without hesitation and leans his arm out of the car window – ready to receive the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

It is a significant moment for the academic and human rights activist.

He now has some immunity against Covid-19. But in a broader sense, his willingness to receive the vaccine sends a powerful message to the black and minority ethnic (BAME) community about the importance of getting immunised.

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There are concerns some ethnic minority groups in Scotland could be reluctant to take up the Covid-19 vaccine after misinformation about its side effects spread online.

Faith leaders and medics are assuring people it is safe, and are highlighting the importance of getting the jab.

“It sort of makes me feel more responsible,” said Palmer.

“Because what I was fearful of is that if I didn’t get this vaccine I could be infecting somebody else and the whole idea of responsibility is that you are respecting other people’s lives,” he added.

Sir Geoff Palmer
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This week, celebrities joined forces to counter misinformation in ethnic minority communities amid concerns they are being targeted by anti-vaccine propaganda.

They are among the most hesitant to be vaccinated but also the most affected – with infections and deaths disproportionately high.  

General Practitioner Dr Punam Krishan says some of the common misconceptions have been around falsehoods such as the vaccine containing meat products.

Dr Punam Krishan

She said: “We’ve actually had senior faith leaders from the Muslim community, from the Indian community, verify that that is not the case.

“So there is no pork, no beef, no gelatine; there are no human embryo cells in the vaccine.”  

But not everyone is convinced.

Shahnoor Chowdhury has underlying health conditions. He remains sceptical because of things he’s heard from people in his community.

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Shahnoor Chowdhury
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He told STV News: Some people say it is not effective, some people say the ethnic minority people are affected more, so this is something very scary for me, especially as I’m 75-years-old, if I don’t get the right information at the right time.  

“Not only me, but there are hundreds of thousands of people like me, who are very scared about this situation.”  

Some want tougher action on those behind the misinformation being spread about the vaccine.

The Edinburgh and Lothian Regional Equality Council (Elrec) said older South Asian people often rely on family networks for information and may encounter “foreign messages” spreading false claims.

It has called on the Scottish Government to ensure that translated public health information reaches older people in minority communities who may have language or literacy issues.

STV News
Foysol Choudhury

Foysol Choudhury, the chairman of Elrec, said: “Those people who are scaring people, to me they are killers.

“They are spreading rumours, they are giving wrong information to people. I would urge the Government to make sure that if they are caught they are punished like criminals.”  

Equalities Minister Chistina McKelvie believes there is an overlap between the groups who are most hesitant about the vaccine and those most affected by Covid-19.

McKelvie has written to community leaders “asking for their help in developing and delivering targeted messages to communities, to address specific barriers they may have to taking up the vaccination”.

That is one example of a greater focus on how to deliver targeted messages to ethnic minority communities.  

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Professor Vittal Katikireddi

Professor Vittal Katikireddi, a professor of public health and health inequalities at the University of Glasgow, said: “I think that involves people in the local authorities, within local public health organisations, but also individual GP practices, churches, other religious organisations and other local groups who are actually much closer to people’s lives and then often much more trusted.”  

As the rollout of the vaccine continues to pick up pace, it is the building of trust and the debunking of myths – particularly among minority ethnic groups – that remain some of the key challenges in this pandemic.      

Everything you need to know about vaccine being made in Scotland

The UK Government has an in-principle agreement for 60 million doses.

Joe Giddens via PA Wire
Large-scale manufacturing of a coronavirus vaccine candidate from French biotech company Valneva has begun in Scotland.

Large-scale manufacturing of a coronavirus vaccine candidate from French biotech company Valneva has begun in Scotland.

If approved, it would deliver up to 60 million doses to the UK by the end of this year.

Here is everything you need to know about Valneva’s coronavirus vaccine candidate.

What type of vaccine is this?

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Valneva’s offering falls into a category of jabs known as inactivated whole virus vaccines.

These vaccines contain viruses whose genetic material has been destroyed by heat, chemicals or radiation so they cannot infect cells and replicate but can still trigger an immune response.

Has this technology been used before?

Yes, this technology is well-established and has been used in seasonal influenza, hepatitis A, polio and rabies vaccines.

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The Covid-19 vaccines developed by Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm, and India’s Bharat Biotech, which have all been approved for emergency use in their countries, are also inactivated vaccines.

How does the vaccine work?

Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is studded with spike proteins which it uses to enter human cells.

While the genetic material virus in the Valneva vaccine candidate has been destroyed, the inactivation process preserves the structure of the spike protein, which helps the body identify the substance as a “foreign invader” and induces an immune response.

So later, when a vaccinated person comes into contact with the virus, the immune system is primed for attack.

How does it compare to the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines?

Unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which needs to be kept at a temperature of about minus 70C, both the Valneva and Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs conform with the standard cold chain requirements, which is between 2C and 8C.

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All three vaccines require a second booster shot to maximise immune response.

Are there clinical trials in the UK?

The Valneva candidate vaccine is being tested on 150 volunteers at testing sites in Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Southampton.

These tests will show whether the vaccine produces a safe and effective immune response against Covid-19.

If successful, larger tests will be planned for April 2021, with more than 4000 UK volunteers taking two doses.

These trials will include those aged 18-65 as well as over-65s.

It is the fifth vaccine supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to enter clinical trials in the UK, alongside those from Oxford/AstraZeneca, Imperial College London, Novavax and Janssen.

If proven to be a successful candidate, Valneva’s vaccine could be available by the end of 2021.

Has the UK Government secured Valneva vaccine doses?

There is an in-principle agreement for 60 million doses, with an option to acquire a further 130 million doses from 2022-2025.

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