“The priority order for [vaccinating] everybody has been the same no matter where you live across the UK… that’s been one of the strengths of the rollout…” – Matt Hancock, UK Health Secretary, March 4, 2021


Hancock is wrong. The “strength” of the vaccination rollout was that Scotland was able to do its own thing and opted to prioritise elderly care home residents who were the most vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus. Scotland achieved 100% cover for care home elderly ahead of England.


On Thursday, March 4, the Health Secretary visited the University of Glasgow Lighthouse Laboratory, which conducts Covid-19 tests. The Glasgow Lighthouse Lab is a favourite place for visiting Tory ministers to hold photo opportunities. The PM visited the Lighthouse just weeks ago as part of his “love-bombing” initiative.

The National:

While visiting Glasgow, Hancock surprised journalists by claiming that holidaymakers would be able to travel freely between Scotland and England this summer “thanks to the speed and effectiveness of the vaccine roll-out”. Hancock said he was confident that travel restrictions would be lifted in time for the summer staycations across the UK. 

Note: Any such decision requires the agreement of the Scottish Government. In fact, the First Minister has warned (only a few days before Hancock’s Glasgow visit) that travel restrictions in Scotland will remain for “some time yet” until it is certain that new variants of the Covid virus are not in danger of being imported into Scotland.


Matt Hancock justified his assertion about travel in and out of Scotland by referring to the success of the Covid vaccination programme at a UK level. He said: “The priority order for everybody has been the same no matter where you live across the UK. I think that’s been one of the strengths of the rollout, meaning that everybody knows where they stand in terms of the order of the queue and everybody knows that the queue is guided by the best clinical advice.”

In fact, Hancock is in error in claiming that the vaccination programme “has been the same no matter where you live in the UK”. Indeed, the Scottish Conservatives spent all of January criticising the FM and Scottish Government precisely for having a different set of vaccination priorities. According to Baroness Davidson (Scottish Parliament, January 20) Scotland's vaccine programme was "lagging behind" because doses were not "reaching GPs quickly enough".

In reply, the FM maintained that the Scottish Government had "very deliberately" concentrated on vaccinating care home residents first, which is "more time-consuming and labour intensive" because of the geographical spread of these facilities north of the border, and because of the extra precautions needed to avoid spreading the infection.  The FM said that the approach in Scotland was designed to prioritise the most vulnerable rather than meet arbitrary percentages for vaccination.

READ MORE: Matt Hancock 'optimistic' that Scottish Government will ease travel restrictions

This strategy was in line with advice from the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). This states: “There is clear evidence that those living in residential care homes for older adults have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 as they have had a high risk of exposure to infection and are at higher clinical risk of severe disease and mortality. Given the increased risk of outbreaks, morbidity and mortality in these closed settings, these adults are considered to be at very high risk. The Committee’s advice is that this group should be the highest priority for vaccination”.

But in England, Hancock (who admitted getting his “inspiration” for the vaccination programme from the Matt Damon film Contagion) prioritised inoculating the over-75s as a whole.  This is not to argue that Hancock’s decision was wrong per se but only that the Scottish Government decided on a different strategy, given Scottish conditions.


By early February the Scottish Government had succeeded in vaccinating the elderly care home population and care staff – ahead of England. With that achieved, vaccinations in Scotland were rolled out by age cohort. As of March 3, 1,661,879 people in Scotland had received a first dose and 92,550 had received their second dose.

The significant conclusion from Matt Hancock’s Glasgow statement is that Conservative ministers have abandoned criticising the Scottish Government’s vaccination strategy. Hancock has been forced to accept that the Scottish project to vaccinate elderly care home residents and staff was achieved quickly and efficiently and that within a matter of weeks the total percentage of the population vaccinated is in line with the UK numbers. The Scottish approach was systematic rather than based on “headline” numbers.


Another zero. Matt Hancock should not be relying on Matt Damon for a vaccination strategy.