Vaccines for 12-year-olds

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While border restrictions are due to be eased further from 28 May, Senator John Le Fondré told a Scrutiny panel yesterday that Jersey would retain several ‘layers’ of protection, including:

– Faster testing for possible variants, including the prospect of carrying out tests in Jersey.

– Extending the vaccination programme to cover children aged 12 to 17.

– ‘Emergency-brake’ measures that would enable rapid changes to the border policy.

– Certificates and automatic border verification for fully vaccinated Islanders.

Details about how Jersey will manage risk levels in the coming months were unveiled as Guernsey announced that border restrictions for those arriving from the UK and Jersey would cease from 1 July, with no testing or isolation requirements for those who were fully vaccinated.

Senator Le Fondré said he believed the Island was ‘as well-placed as we could possibly be in the context of what we are dealing with’.

Dr Ivan Muscat, deputy medical officer of health, said samples from any positive tests, with the exception of those showing minimal traces of Covid-19, were being sent to a different laboratory in the UK, and results were being returned within 48 hours.

He added that local testing for samples could be feasible in the longer term, creating the opportunity to respond more quickly in the event of any future outbreaks of disease.

Evidence that the virus was more transmissible by children was likely to lead to those aged 12 and above being vaccinated, Dr Muscat said.

‘Pfizer vaccines are being given in the USA down to the age of 12 and I hope the MHRA [the UK regulatory body whose advice is followed in Jersey] will follow suit,’ he said.

‘We are already thinking and planning how we can vaccinate children in September, perhaps in conjunction with the flu jab.’

Alex Khaldi, director of public health policy, told members of the Safer Travel Review Panel that officials in Jersey would work with UK counterparts and monitor any areas that were causing concern because of variants and high infection rates.

He said this analysis would enable the Health Minister to authorise the emergency-brake measures which could see restrictions introduced within 24 to 48 hours.

When Jersey’s traffic-light system of risk classification for international destinations was reintroduced on 28 May, Mr Khaldi said the Island was likely to use the same ratings as the UK for most jurisdictions, although some of those with direct connection, such as France, would be treated differently. In such cases, he said that a regional approach would be taken.

Regional risk assessments for the UK will remain in force until 28 May, when England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will each be assigned a ‘national’ rating.

Mr Khaldi also updated the panel on plans for vaccine certificates, saying that three elements were in progress:

– Paper certificates for fully vaccinated Islanders going to destinations which required such proof, with an announcement due ‘in the very near future’.

– The ability for border officials in Jersey to automatically check the vaccination status of Islanders returning to Jersey.

– Verification for those travelling to the Island from elsewhere in the Common Travel Area was described as being ‘at an advanced stage’.

The Chief Minister said officials would soon clarify whether children coming to Jersey with their fully vaccinated parents would have the same exemption from isolation.

While Guernsey has brought in a charge of £25 towards the cost of testing for arrivals, Senator Le Fondré said that he expected Jersey’s policy of free testing to remain for at least the next two months.

‘I suspect that, in the medium term, charging will come in but, at the moment, our focus is on moving to new technology which will bring down the cost of testing,’ he said.

Rachel Williams, director of testing and tracing, said the border-testing team would be expanded through recruitment which would include university students looking for summer work and members of back-to-work schemes. She said almost 200 people had expressed an interest in the work, and that there would also be an investment in facilities at the Harbour and Airport.

Asked about how long it would be necessary to wear masks, Senator Le Fondré said: ‘Mask-wearing is certainly with us for the next few weeks but we are giving some consideration to at what point we can release that measure.’

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