First Covid vaccines may be in island by Christmas

GUERNSEY’S first few Covid-19 vaccinations could be given by Christmas, but doses are expected to be initially limited, islanders were told yesterday by the Civil Contingencies Authority.

Left to right, States chief executive Paul Whitfield, Policy & Resources president Peter Ferbrache and P&R vice president Heidi Soulsby at yesterday’s media briefing. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 28909291)
Left to right, States chief executive Paul Whitfield, Policy & Resources president Peter Ferbrache and P&R vice president Heidi Soulsby at yesterday’s media briefing. (Picture by Peter Frankland, 28909291)

It is hoped that more will be available by early next year, with older people likely to be the first priority.

The news comes at the same time as the Bailiwick’s border controls were tightened. From midnight last night new business tunnels were indefinitely suspended and all critical workers will also now have to be tested on arrival.

CCA chairman Peter Ferbrache said the changes were not due to anything happening in the Bailiwick, but rather events taking place outside the islands, where cases are rising. He noted that the Bailiwick was one of the only places on this side of Europe where life was continuing in a near normal way.

All critical workers must now be tested on the day of their arrival.

‘Many already are,’ he said.

‘But at the moment it’s not a requirement.’

He said they were grateful to critical workers, as they fulfilled an essential role and they followed the restrictions put upon them.

The other change is that all business tunnel travel arrangements will be suspended.

‘We are going to honour those that are currently in force and those that are being processed, but from midnight, or just after midnight, we will not be entertaining any further applications,’ he said.

‘That’s not because of any concerns that we have. But we just want to ensure that we are making and taking the best appropriate steps that we can to protect the people of the Bailiwick.’

Other changes are also in the works.

Currently people arriving in the Bailiwick can be tested on arrival. But it is being proposed that they should also be tested on day 13, before they go back into the community. This could be rolled out in the next few weeks.

Deputy Ferbrache said it was unlikely there would any material changes to the border arrangements at the moment, although this was always kept under review.

There has been news this week that development of a new vaccine by BioNTech and Pfizer was progressing well and that it was 90% effective.

Policy & Resources vice-president Heidi Soulsby described the news of the Pfizer vaccine as a game changer.

‘Before that news, we didn’t know whether there would be a vaccine that could make a difference,’ she said.

‘But now we do. However, we mustn’t forget there is still a long way to go.’

Also it would not be possible to vaccinate everyone all at once.

‘The current best-case scenario is that there might be limited quantities available by the end of the year,’ she said.

‘These will be most likely set aside for those living in care homes and care home staff, followed by front line health workers and the over 80s. It will be a while before we can undertake mass vaccination and enable the herd immunity we will need to keep the virus at bay. So things aren’t going to get back to normal any time soon.’

Dr Nicola Brink said news of a vaccine had given her cautious optimism for 2021. Preparations are taking place to ensure the island is ready.

She said the news that vaccine was likely to need very cold storage conditions – such as -70 degrees Celsius – was always something they had planned for from the beginning.

‘We’ve procured -80 degree refrigerators in advance of that, because we knew it was highly likely that we would get an RNA vaccine,’ she said.

‘So that’s been factored in to our planning. It is logistically very challenging and it is requiring a lot of planning and a lot of late nights. But we are doing what we can to make sure that our supply chains are as secure as we can make them.’

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