Anas Sarwar has called for the gap between first and second vaccinations to be halved to four weeks to deal with the “out of control” spread of coronavirus.
The Scottish Labour leader wants Holyrood to be recalled as he warned that the exit from the pandemic “rests on a knife edge”.
Accusing the Scottish Government of being too slow on measures such as walk-in vaccination centres and contact tracing, Sarwar said the speed of the vaccination rollout must now be increased amid record levels of new covid-19 cases.
In his call to cut the time between vaccinations, Sarwar pointed to guidance from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) which suggests that vaccines can be effective when the two doses are administered just four weeks apart.
“We need a plan now for dealing with this – and the clear route out of this is speeding up the vaccination effort,” he said.
“By cutting the waiting time between first and second doses, we can get people protected faster and ensure our response to the pandemic is keeping pace with the crisis.
“The government cannot afford to take their eye off the ball at this crucial moment.”
In response, a spokesman for health secretary Humza Yousaf argued that an eight-week gap was “optimal” according to advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) and “reducing that below eight weeks would compromise the effectiveness of the vaccine and how long that effect lasts”.
He added: “We are progressing the final stages of our successful vaccine rollout as quickly as we can.
“This is limited by supply, we can only give Pfizer to younger age groups, in addition, constraints on supply affect the pool of those who had their first dose eight weeks previously.”
Last week saw the most coronavirus cases than at any point during the pandemic, with a peak of 4484 new infections recorded.
According to the latest ONS infection survey figures, Scotland is also believed to have the highest covid rate in the UK, with estimated levels in the Scottish population 73% higher than in England, triple those in Wales and more than four times higher than those in Northern Ireland.
With the surging case numbers, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged that the Test and Protect contact tracing system is “under pressure” but insisted it is “coping well”.
But on Saturday, Yousaf confirmed that contact tracers are now only texting primary contacts rather than calling in all but the most high-risk or complex cases.
Training of contacts’ contacts has also been dropped.
Yousaf said: “This is a sensible and practical approach which will allow us to focus our contact tracing efforts on the most high-risk cases and prevent further spread of the virus.”
But Sarwar said the changes are cutting corners and added: “It is becoming clearer by the day that the Scottish Government have allowed covid to become out of control in Scotland and the response from ministers has just been too slow.
“Five weeks ago, before this recent spike took hold, Scottish Labour called for walk-in vaccination centres to become the norm – but ministers dawdled and now our exit from the pandemic rests on a knife edge.
“Right now we should be ramping up efforts to contain the virus, but instead the SNP cut corners on Test and Protect and let the vaccine rollout stall.
“Parliament needs to be recalled urgently so ministers can answer questions on this growing crisis.”
The health secretary has also urged Scots to consider using walk-in centres – which will be open in every mainland region of Scotland from Monday – if they are not yet fully vaccinated.
“People can attend for their first dose, or if eight weeks have passed since their first, they can go along and get their second dose,” Yousaf said.
“You can find out where your nearest drop-in clinics are by visiting NHS Inform which will direct you to the latest information from your local health board – or through your local board’s social media channels.
“Our route out of this pandemic is getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, that is why I am urging people to get jagged in July.”
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