A social care leader has warned of catastrophic consequences if care home residents are not given “absolute priority” in the roll-out of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales, spoke out because of concerns that the vaccine might be too late in reaching uniquely vulnerable residents at a time when care homes across Wales were at crisis point and the spread of the virus was rampant.

The Oxford vaccine is the second to be given approval by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency whose head, Dr June Raine, said it would save tens of thousands of lives, adding “no corners have been cut” in assessing the safety and effectiveness of the jab.

Mr Kreft said: “It’s clearly fantastic news that the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine has been approved but it’s vitally important that it is rolled out very quickly because were are now in a desperate race against time, especially since this new super-strain of Covid-19 is so highly infectious and out of control, with community transmission rampant.

“Every care home manager will have everything crossed that the vaccine reaches their residents before the virus. There is great trepidation in the social care sector that it might not come soon enough.

“Residents in all care homes should be given absolute priority – along with the staff who provide care for them. Because of their age and infirmity, our vulnerable residents are uniquely at risk from this deadly virus.

“All residents and staff in care homes need to be vaccinated immediately – even in homes where they have had cases. Wherever they can be vaccinated safely they should be.

“If we fail to urgently protect care home residents we will be faced with catastrophic consequences. This really is a matter of life or death.

“The situation could not be more urgent because this new mutant strain of the virus is even more dangerous because of its frightening ability to spread so quickly .

“In the meantime, I am appealing to people across Wales to adhere to the hugely important safety protocols, including social distancing, wearing masks and frequent handwashing.

“This is a civic responsibility. We will only suppress this virus and get back to some kind of normality when approximately 80 per cent of the population are vaccinated, otherwise we will never get rid of it.

“The sector is facing unprecedented pressure. We are in a perfect storm because of the risk of transmission by asymptomatic staff at a time when many staff are isolating and agency staff are hard to come by to provide cover. Many care homes throughout Wales are at crisis point.

“It may well be that Christmas has turbo charged this virus and the exponential growth of community transmission is the greatest threat of all at the moment and this is something we must suppress, otherwise the vaccine will come too late for many people.

“Everybody in social care have worked unbelievably hard for the past 10 months and now the vaccine is within our grasp – we just need a final push to get over the line.”

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Very pleased that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been given the go-ahead. Over 25,000 vaccines have already been administered in Wales and this second vaccine will start to be rolled out here in the New Year.”