Speaking at a press conference confirming the immediate start of this year’s flu vaccination programme – for which 56,000 Islanders are eligible – Deputy Richard Renouf addressed news that six people had tested positive having visited the same, unnamed, venue in mid-September.
The minister said he was happy that the track-and-trace system, used to facilitate contact with those who have been close to someone who later tested positive, was robust.
At present, arriving passengers with a ‘green’ travel history – from which three of the recent cluster of positive cases came – are not required to isolate while waiting for the result of the test that is administered on arrival.
Deputy Renouf said compulsory isolation would only be brought in once Jersey’s new testing lab was able to process all tests locally within 12 hours.
‘It’s about finding the right balance,’ he said. ‘It’s regrettable that they tested positive, but when we found out, we successfully did what we had to do and the Island has been protected.’
Deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat, said the capacity of the new lab had been increased to 800 tests a day and would gradually be increased further towards a daily figure of 2,000.
Dr Muscat said a 12-hour turnaround for tests would be possible by mid-October, ‘if not before’.
‘The risk of onward transmission is low and to have to ask people to self-isolate for 30 to 36 hours does not equate, but when this time is significantly less then it would be reasonable to make that a requirement,’ he said.
Deputy Renouf and Dr Muscat said they were confident that there would be enough doses of the flu vaccine for all eligible Islanders.
Media reports in the UK outlining a delay in vaccination for vulnerable people as a result of demand outstripping supply would not affect Jersey, it was confirmed, with robust arrangements in place for stocks.
The programme will begin immediately through a ‘tiered’ approach, with all of this year’s vaccinations being free:
lThose in clinical ‘at risk’ groups, pregnant women, the over-65s and care home residents will be contacted by their GPs, with the aim of having them vaccinated by the end of October.
lAlso during October, healthcare staff and those who work in care homes will be offered the vaccine.
lFrom 12 October to mid-November, the nasal spray vaccination will be available to pre-school children aged six months or over, as well as primary and secondary pupils.
lAn additional 18,000 Islanders aged 50 to 64 will be eligible to receive the vaccine and will be contacted by their GP in November.
Dr Muscat added: ‘Influenza can be unpredictable, but if we keep it under control we will assist in the prevention of co-infection of flu and Covid, reduce winter pressures [on the healthcare system] and reduce the transmission of flu and Covid.
‘If we keep respiratory illnesses under control and limit the spread of flu, it will assist with the prevention of coronavirus and severe coronavirus infections.
‘This year, it is vitally important to be vaccinated against the flu virus as quickly as possible. Please do not delay when flu vaccination is made available to you.’
Although vaccination is not compulsory, Dr Muscat said he hoped the overall uptake rate in recent years of 60% – of those eligible – would increase to closer to 70%.