Free flu jabs for over-50s in winter Covid fight

FREE flu jabs will be given to the over-50s and vulnerable Islanders as the fight against Covid-19 gears up for winter.

A person getting a flu jab (29232961)
A person getting a flu jab (29232961)

The move is to protect people from suffering a double hit of seasonal influenza and coronavirus.

And GP surgeries could open on Sundays to deliver the injections, as well as administer any potential Covid-19 vaccine.

Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham has lodged a proposition which, if approved by the States, would see surgeries exempted from restrictions on Sunday trading, with doctors reporting they may need to work extended hours to deliver proposed vaccination programmes over the winter.

The government is preparing to deliver any potential Covid-19 vaccination to all Islanders for free, with deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat last week saying that preparations were being made for a roll-out as early as mid-October.

When a vaccine will be available remains unknown, however. During a press conference yesterday, UK chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said that a vaccine may be available in small amounts before the end of the year but is more likely to be available in the first half of 2021.

Senator Farnham’s proposition says that part of the government’s strategy will also be to prevent the spread of influenza over the winter in an effort to prevent dangerous ‘co-infections’.

‘Before Covid-19 vaccinations can start, the Government of Jersey needs to deliver a flu vaccine programme in order to reduce possible co-infections [people having flu and Covid-19 at the same time],’ it says.

‘Co-infections would have significant implications for individuals and our health service. The flu vaccination programme will start at the end of September 2020.

‘All Islanders aged 50 years or over, or in an “at-risk” group will receive the vaccine free of cost.’

In previous years, pregnant women, children in reception and Year 1 at school, pre-school children, and young people who have a long-term medical condition in Years 12 and 13 have received free flu vaccines. Over-65s and people with long-term medical conditions were charged £10.

Senator Farnham added: ‘GPs are critical to the delivery of the flu vaccine and the Covid-19 vaccine when it is available. Consultation with GPs has indicated that delivery of the vaccines may require some GPs to run extended-hours surgeries in the evenings and on Sundays.

‘Currently, GP surgeries are restricted, in law, from opening on Sundays. They would be committing an offence if they provided services on a Sunday, even if the service was free of charge to the patient.’

The proposals would add GP surgeries to the list of ‘shops’ that are exempt from Sunday trading restrictions and also ensure that pharmacies which open on Sundays were able to provide vaccines.

If approved, the move would not be time-limited due to it being ‘anticipated that additional capacity to provide for vaccination programmes may be required on an ongoing basis’.

The report adds that the exemption for GPs would be made by the government and they would not need to request permission from their parish Constable to open on Sundays.

The proposition is due to be debated during this week’s States sitting which begins today.

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