The largest mass vaccination programme ever seen in the UK is underway in the north-east.
The second phase of vaccinations has begun its rollout with those over the age of 80 years old eligible to get the jab.
NHS Grampian has said it is confident all eligible candidates for the first two phases of vaccinations will have been offered their first dose by the end of the month.
It comes as a vaccination clinic was held at Stonehaven Town Hall yesterday, and health chiefs said smaller clinics had also taken place during the week.
Those offered the vaccination will be contacted when they are able to receive the vaccine, and are not required to make contact themselves.
David Pfleger, director of pharmacy for NHS Grampian said: “Wave two of our vaccination plan sees us start to offer immunisation to the wider community. I am pleased to say some small clinics have already taken place this week and these will expand in line with available vaccine supplies.
“This will see our over 80s population (those at home, in sheltered housing, and currently in hospital) be offered the injection.
“I know there is a great deal of interest in this programme and people are keen to know when they will be offered immunisation. I have to stress this is the biggest mass vaccination programme we have ever undertaken and it will take time
“Our current plan works on the basis that we will offer jabs to people aged 70 and over, and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, throughout February, with the plan widening out further as vaccine supplies and staffing allow.
“Our order of priority following the over 70s is those who are identified as clinically extremely vulnerable according to JCVI guidance, those aged 65-69, those aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions, those aged 60-64, then 55-59 and concluding with those aged 50-54 during April. After that, the programme will fully extend to all other adults.
“This whole programme hinges on two key factors: the availability of vaccine supplies and the recruitment of staff. We are recruiting right now and expect to take on 100 whole time equivalent vaccinators (in addition to the vaccinators we already have working for us) and 280 Healthcare Support Workers.
“We will need to undertake further recruitment if we are to meet the ambition of carrying out 50,000 vaccinations per week.”
In Stonehaven, vaccinations were condensed into two days, with 600 given out to those eligible, using both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines.
Second doses will typically be given out in the 12th week after the first one has taken place.
GP Partner Kris McLaughlin from the Stonehaven Medical Practice, said: “On Thursday and Friday we were offering vaccinations to over 80s, and we had a really fantastic high percentage turnout. We’ve given 600 vaccines over the two days.
“It’s a long awaited first positive step and we’re delighted so many people have taken part.
“The vaccine is safe and I would encourage anyone who is offered one to take it up. It’s been approved at a rate that seems faster than normal, but it’s based on decades of other vaccine research.”
He added that despite receiving the vaccine, if anyone experiences Covid-19 symptoms, it was important to follow the guidelines on self-isolation and testing, as the vaccine does not give absolute protection, and it can take a while for immunity to build.
Susan Webb, director of public health, added: “Public safety is our priority. We have complete confidence in the process followed by the MHRA and the population of Grampian can have confidence in that too.
“I would encourage everyone who is offered the vaccine to take up that opportunity. There is a wealth of information on the vaccines available on the NHS Inform website and I would encourage anyone with queries – or concerns about their own medical conditions – to pay that website a visit.”
The latest figures show there have been four more deaths of people with coronavirus from the north-east have been recorded in the past day.
Three deaths were recorded in Aberdeenshire and one in Aberdeen.
According to the latest Scottish Government statistics, this raises their case count to 166 and 129 respectively.
The figures show NHS Grampian had the fifth-largest increase in case numbers among health boards, with 162 newly reported.
The new variant which has been seen across Scotland is estimated to account for around 68% of the positive cases recorded in the NHS Grampian area.
Head of health intelligence Jillian Evans said: “The new variant is definitely increasing in Scotland, we know that. We also know at least half the cases in Grampian are associated with it.
“The situation is really, really fragile. There’s been a bit of levelling off, but we’re still at really high levels of cases.
“The best thing to do to help is stay away from each other.”
Hospital admissions in NHS Grampian have also now surpassed the peak of the first lockdown.
Jillian said: “Everyone needs to be more vigilant than ever before. It’s definitely more contagious. In Scotland, it seems to be the highest in lower age groups, between 20 and 24, but it can affect everyone.
“I don’t want people to be terrified, but it is very contagious, we’ve really got to follow the rules.
“We’ve seen an increase in cases from after Christmas Eve, they’ve been about 47% higher a day than they were last spring.
“There’s very high numbers of cases of people in the hospital, and they’re staying in for longer than a regular patient would.
“We expected it after the relaxation at Christmas, and over the festive period, where more people were going out and shopping.
“The next week to 10 days will be really telling.
“We’re expecting them to come down, but we really need everyone to work hard to follow the rules.
“It’s still a very fragile situation.”