Indian variant: Jab rollout boosted

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The Health Department has said that increased supplies of the vaccine, which have recently arrived in the Island, have enabled it to increase capacity at Fort Regent to support the drive to give all over-50s their second dose.

Meanwhile, Islanders at moderate and high risk of serious illness from Covid-19 who have not yet been vaccinated are being contacted directly as Jersey passes the 100,000-jab milestone.

And, during a Scrutiny panel hearing, it was revealed that talks were under way about how a possible rollout of the vaccine to under-18s may be administered. (Full story: page 6.)

Officials stressed that vaccinating as many Islanders as possible was vital, as the UK was seeing increasing cases of the Indian variant, which is almost three times more transmissible than the strains analysed last year.

They hope that 80% of Islanders will have received both jabs by mid-August, a figure which would herald the arrival of herd immunity.

Although the Indian variant has yet to be detected in Jersey, Dr Ivan Muscat, deputy medical officer of health, emphasised that its increased transmission rate meant that a higher percentage of the population would need to be vaccinated before the Island could be assured of herd immunity. Based on the transmission rate of the original virus, a figure of around 60% would have been sufficient.

He said: ‘The point at which we would reach the more-than-80% protection of the population and, therefore, the herd immunity required, would be when teenagers are also vaccinated. We will start approaching it before they are vaccinated and there will be a significant amount of protection as a result of vaccinating down to the age of 18 but we need to cover as many people down to the age of 18 as possible.’

Dr Muscat added that, assuming the highest rate of virus transmission, herd immunity would not mathematically be reached until vaccinations had extended down to the age of 12.

Predicting the exact point at which herd immunity applies is complicated by the different virus strains.

Experts believe that the greater transmissibility of the Indian variant is likely to mean that, in time, it becomes the dominant strain. In the short-term, however, the position is less certain.

‘With a mixture of different viruses and, therefore, a lower average RO [or transmission rate] then you may achieve a significant amount of herd immunity by mid-August,’ Dr Muscat said.

Although the government described Islanders’ response to the vaccine programme as ‘incredible’, it will write directly to the minority in the moderate- and high-risk groups to encourage them to make an appointment.

The latest vaccination statistics showed that Jersey had administered 97,366 jabs by last Sunday, equivalent to 90.32 jabs per 100 people in the population. This consisted of 57,124 first doses and 40,242 second doses. More than half the population has now received a first dose of the vaccine while more than one in three has received a second.

In the over-50s age group, more than 90% have received a first dose, while more than 80% have received both doses.

Head of the Covid-19 vaccination programme Becky Sherrington said that they wanted to reach the minority who had not yet come forward.

‘If you are just that one out of ten, it’s really important that you come forward,’ she said. ‘We have a vaccine reserved for them but they need to come as soon as they can. While there are variants around, this is time-critical.’

The ease with which Jersey is able to reach a vaccination target which will enable it to offer herd immunity will depend partly on the licensing of the Pfizer vaccine for teenagers. Although approval has been given in the USA for its use on 12-to-18-year-olds, similar confirmation has yet to be issued in the UK.

However, Dr Muscat said that discussions had already taken place to determine how teenagers would be vaccinated if authorisation was given.

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