HALF of elderly care home residents in Scotland have had their second Covid vaccine doses.

The latest data shows that 1.66 million people in Scotland have received their first inoculation, with 92,550 - just under two per cent of the population - having now had their second booster jag.

This includes 15,075 of all care homes residents, and 50% of those in care homes for the elderly.

It comes as figures from the National Records of Scotland show that Covid deaths among care home residents - who were first in line for vaccinations when the rollout began in December - fell by 73% , from 98 in the last week of January to 26 last week.

That compares to to drop of 38% for hospital patients over the same period.

"It is reasonable to speculate that the vaccination programme has had a very significant impact on that,"said Dr Gregor Smith, Scotland's chief medical officer.

The NRS report also shows that Covid deaths among the over-85s - which includes those living in care homes and the community - are continuing to decline more rapidly than for other age groups.

Between the end of January and the end of February, Covid deaths for over-85s fell by 56% compared to 39% among those aged 65 to 74.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: "Things are heading in the right direction. New cases of Covid are falling, and vaccination is starting to have an impact."

There are now just 750 patients in hospital with recently diagnosed Covid, and 69 in intensive care, putting Scotland roughly a month ahead of the bed demand levels projected by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M).

Although these forecasts took account of the potential impact of vaccination, there is growing evidence that the vaccines are also curbing transmission of the virus. This would bring the epidemic under control more quickly.

The test positivity rate has dropped to an average of 3.5% over the past seven days, the lowest since September, with a total of 4,585 new cases detected - in line with levels last recorded in early October.

However, Dr Smith cautioned that the vaccination programme itself could exert a "selection pressure" which encourages the virus to mutate into new forms capable of evading the immune response.

He said: "This is much more likely to happen when you've got very high levels of infection, so it's really important that alongside the vaccination programme we continue to suppress the virus as much as possible."

Dr Smith added that they were "still seeing an awful lot of cases that are associated with car sharing".

Meanwhile, efforts are continuing to trace all passengers who shared a flight to Aberdeen with three oil workers who later tested positive for a more transmissible and potentially vaccine-resistant Brazil Covid variant.

Of the 90 people onboard the BA1312 flight from Heathrow to Aberdeen on January 29, 34 have not yet been contacted - including 19 whose phone numbers were "not valid".

However, Dr Smith stressed that there is "no evidence" of local community transmission, based on genomic sequencing of positive cases.

He said: "There is nothing to suggest that this has resulted in any escape of this variant into local communities."