Herd immunity ‘hard to hit due to Delta variant’

THE emergence of the Delta Covid variant has made community immunity very difficult to achieve, despite high vaccination rates, the Chief Minister has said.

Senator Le Fondré said that the government would be following guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations for vaccinating under-18s. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON.
Senator Le Fondré said that the government would be following guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations for vaccinating under-18s. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON.

In a letter to Scrutiny, Senator John Le Fondré said that even with a 94% uptake of the jab among all adults, government intervention would still be required to stop the spread of Covid. The figures presented to the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell were based on the vaccine providing full immunity in 95% of those jabbed.

He said: ‘The calculation of community immunity has been made more complex by the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant.’

Evidence of the infection rate of the virus suggested the Delta variant had a reproduction rate of around seven, almost three times that of the original strain (2.5).

In his response to a series of questions from the Safer Travel Guidelines Review Panel, the Chief Minister revealed that children would have to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity if all government restrictions were lifted.

He said: ‘Currently those under 18 cannot be vaccinated (unless very vulnerable) which means that only some 80% of our population is eligible for vaccination. But disease has been shown to be generally much milder in young people.’

Senator Le Fondré added that the government would be following guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisations for vaccinating under-18s.

He said: ‘The JCVI is advising that those who are under 18 do not receive any of the vaccines unless they are in priority four (clinically extremely vulnerable) or priority six (those with underlying conditions who are more susceptible to Covid-19). In addition, young people aged 16 to 18 years, who are employed in, studying or in training for health and social care work have also been offered vaccination alongside their colleagues. The numbers in this group are very small.

‘The current policy on under-18-year-olds is being reviewed by the JCVI currently and we are awaiting imminent advice from the committee, which has been reviewing the evidence and risk/benefits of vaccinating under-18s. The current advice is to only vaccinate 16-to-18-year-olds who have high-risk conditions. Once the updated advice is published by the JCVI, the Government of Jersey and the vaccination programme will review the guidance and determine how best to proceed.’

The Scrutiny Panel also asked whether there had been a conscious decision to spread Covid among the younger age groups.

Senator Le Fondré said: ‘A balance-of-harms approach has been taken towards the Covid-19 pandemic in Jersey. The primary focus has been on minimising death and hospitalisation due to serious illness. This has been balanced with the need to protect the wellbeing of all Islanders when stricter mitigation measures, such as lockdown, were in place. Through the successful rollout of the vaccination programme providing a degree of population immunity, we are starting to see a reduction in the rate of hospitalisations even with the current increase in infections.

‘The emergence of new variants of Covid-19 requires an ongoing risk-assessment-based approach. Some people will not be eligible for vaccination. Such individuals will become infected at some point. If they are, then it is better to be infected during the summer when there are fewer concomitant respiratory viruses.’

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