Booster jabs to be offered to Islanders over age of 18

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Deputy Richard Renouf made the announcement last night after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation confirmed that the UK programme would be extended to under-40s.

The committee also confirmed that second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines would be offered to all 12-to-15-year-olds after a minimum of three months had elapsed since their first jab.

A fourth dose will also be available for all ‘severely immunosuppressed’ Islanders no sooner than three months after the administration of their first dose.

Deputy Renouf’s confirmation of the Island’s stance came as ministers met to discuss possible measures required to combat a new Covid variant.

Chief Minister John Le Fondré said that an update on the Island’s response to the Omicron variant would be issued on Tuesday following the talks.

The UK has added several countries in Africa to its red travel list, which Jersey also uses, since B.1.1.529 was first identified in South Africa, while all overseas arrivals in the UK now have to undertake a PCR test. Concerns have been raised about how transmissible the variant is and whether vaccines could be less effective in fighting it.

Speaking yesterday, Senator Le Fondré said: ‘Competent Authority Ministers have been meeting regularly during the last few weeks and are meeting again today to discuss whether any action is needed to respond to the latest developments in the Covid pandemic.’

There is no requirement for those travelling from Jersey to the UK to undergo PCR testing, the government has clarified, as the Island is within the Common Travel Area – as long as travellers have not been outside the CTA in the past ten days. Islanders who transit through UK ports are also not expected to take a PCR test.

Despite recent UK travel restrictions, nine cases of the variant had been reported by yesterday, including three in England and six in Scotland, prompting Prime

Minister Boris Johnson to announce plans to reintroduce masks in shops and on public transport in England, measures that were already in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

As of yesterday, mask-wearing remained strongly recommended guidance in Jersey.

When asked by the JEP what the likelihood of the Omicron variant reaching Jersey was, the Island’s deputy medical officer of health, Dr Ivan Muscat, said: ‘It’s not yet known whether Omicron is very transmissible.

‘Up to now, all very transmissible strains (eg Alpha and Delta variants) have disseminated widely and affected Jersey so a highly transmissible variant is likely to affect Jersey in the future. Maximising vaccination always helps.’

Asked how the Island was testing for Omicron, Dr Muscat responded: ‘Positive results with links to red-list countries, and all positive arrivals, are being sequenced in the UK.’

The total number of active Covid cases in the Island stood at 1,249 yesterday, with no reported cases of the latest variant.

Meanwhile, Jersey’s government began offering vaccinations in schools this week, in a bid to boost vaccine take-up among younger Islanders.

The head of Jersey’s vaccination programme, Becky Sherrington, said a ‘team of very skilled nurses’ was going into the Island’s 11 secondary schools, offering vaccinations to anyone over 12. Young Islanders will still be able to get their vaccinations at Fort Regent.

‘We hope this will increase accessibility for those yet to have a vaccination,’ she told the JEP, adding that it would ‘make it easier for people’.

Head teachers had been ‘really supportive’ of the schools programme, Ms Sherrington added.

It was also announced this month that children aged 16 and 17 would be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

First-dose rates for 16- and 17-year-olds currently stand at 53%, with Ms Sherrington saying: ‘We would always like to see it higher.’

Ms Sherrington admitted that Jersey lagged behind some European nations when it came to vaccinating younger age groups, given a delayed announcement in the UK.

Vaccination helped reduce the risk of getting Covid and of missing out on education, she said, with disruption marring the summer term during the Island’s third wave.

Ms Sherrington encouraged all eligible Islanders to come forward for vaccinations, ‘with the Christmas period coming up, schools breaking up and higher case rates’ .

She said they were working closely with the JCVI, including ‘taking forward’ any guidance they issued.

Teaching union the NASUWT recently wrote to Children’s and Education Minister Scott Wickenden calling for safety measures to be reintroduced in schools in response to rising case numbers. The union wants whole school assemblies to be suspended, face coverings to be worn in all school areas and PCR testing for close contacts to be reintroduced.

The Guernsey Civil Contingencies Authority gave a press conference yesterday evening, providing an update in response to the new variant

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