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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 11 December 2020

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11/12/2020

Good afternoon everyone and thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today.

I am joined by the Minister for Health and Social Care David Ashford MHK and our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart.

On the world stage, it has been a truly monumental week in our battle against this pandemic, with the United Kingdom becoming the first country to begin the roll-out of a mass vaccination programme to combat the COVID-19 virus. 

This is the beginning of our fight back. 

The vaccination will protect people against a disease that has claimed the lives of over one and a half million people – twenty-five of them here on our Island. 

On Tuesday morning at 6:31 am, at University Hospital in Coventry, ninety year old Margaret Keenan was the first person to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 jab as part of a mass vaccination programme.  Mrs Keenan received a guard of honour and rapturous applause from NHS workers after the vaccine had been administered.  It was a moment we have spent this whole year longing for.

Turning ninety-one next week, Mrs Keenan referred to her vaccination as an early birthday present.  For all of us, it was an early Christmas present and a beacon of hope at the end of a dark and difficult year.  Like so many pivotal moments in human history this one small step will come to signify a giant leap.

First and foremost this vaccination programme is about saving lives, but it will also enable us to restore our way of life.  The herculean task ahead of us to vaccinate, en masse, will lay the foundations for our return to normality.  In time, the vaccination programme will allow the measures that have slowed the spread of the virus and saved lives – put in place around the globe – to be relaxed and, finally, removed.  We will never know how many lives have been saved by these difficult but necessary measures, but saved lives they have. 

Here in the Isle of Man, work is well underway on preparing for our vaccination programme.  We must bear in mind that this is a complex logistical exercise – especially given the nature of the Pfizer vaccine.

Until a few weeks ago no one was certain which of the several vaccines in the advanced stages of development would be the first to receive regulatory approval.  Given the differences between the vaccines being developed – particularly in relation to transport, storage and the impact these factors have on plans to get jabs in arms –planning and making detailed preparations has been difficult.

The Pfizer vaccine has to be stored and transported at minus seventy degrees centigrade, using dry ice.   The vaccine comes in batches of just under one thousand.  And the vials contain multiple, not single, doses, with each individual dose having to be removed and then diluted ready to be administered.  It requires delicate and proper preparation to ensure the vaccine remains effective.  Each batch in its entirety must be thawed at the same time.  There is then a five day window in which the thawed vaccines must be used.  They cannot be refrozen.

The vaccine is coming on stream gradually as production continues, and Pfizer has acknowledged delays in the manufacturing, which have impacted on delivery to the United Kingdom.  With two doses required at least twenty-one days apart for the vaccine to be effective, we must factor in to our planning and have certainty that we will have adequate supply to administer the second dose in the required timescale.

This, I hope, gives you a flavour of some of the logistical challenges and complexities being considered by the team tasked with rolling out this programme here in the Isle of Man.  They are working round the clock and doing a tremendous job.

So, what timescales are we looking at?  Ideally, we would like to begin vaccinating this side of Christmas.  But I must emphasise that we must have certainty around availability schedules before we can start. There is currently some uncertainty around these.

I’ll bring in David to talk a little more about our plans and thinking on this.

Thank you David that is very encouraging news and – if things go to plan – the start of vaccinations will be a Christmas present our whole community can rejoice in.

The silver bullet is ready, locked and loaded.  Pulling the trigger and launching that fight back is, I hope, only a matter of days away.

The vaccine has been through rigorous trials, evaluations and, finally, regulatory approval.  Whilst the United Kingdom was the first to approve the vaccine, Canada has quickly followed suit and approval in the United States is expected imminently following a recommendation for approval by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The vaccine is effective – at up to 95% - and it is safe.  But as its roll-out continues, we learn more.  This week guidance has been issued on those with a history of severe allergies.

Henrietta, I know you wanted to say a few words on this topic.

Our public health team continues to monitor developments closely.

Our COVID website has been updated with details of the vaccination programme and this will continue to be populated as details are finalised.  Visit gov.im/covid.

Before moving to questions from representatives of the media, I wanted to touch upon the ongoing trade talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Brexit has very much seemed like the side-show this year as attention turned to the pandemic.  Despite the continuing global crisis, the transition period we have been in since the United Kingdom left the European Union at the end of January will cease on 31 December and things will change on 1 January. There are changes that will happen regardless of whether there is a deal or not.

To what extent they will change is still not clear.  As you will have seen across the media, the signs coming from London and Brussels are that significant gaps remain in negotiating a trade deal that both parties can agree to.

A new deadline of this Sunday has been agreed for progress to be made. We are in close touch with colleagues in the UK government and the other Crown Dependencies. And will continue to do so over this weekend and beyond if necessary.

The Isle of Man is prepared for any eventuality.  I will of course keep you updated on developments and what any outcome means for our Island.

In the meantime, please remember that if you trade with the EU, visit the EU or come from the EU, regardless of whether there is a deal or not there may be changes that affect you. There is a lot of useful information about the ‘Are You Ready for 2021?’ campaign at gov.im/brexit.

This week we have seen one new case of COVID-19 detected, a key worker already in isolation.  Our total number of active cases consists of that one individual.

As we approach the finish line for 2020, each of you will undoubtedly look back at this year with elements of sorrow, frustration and disbelief.  But you must also look back with pride.  What we have achieved is truly remarkable.  There is no denying that it has come at a cost.  But the position in which we find ourselves, compared to each of our immediate neighbours and countries around the world, is extraordinary.

Make no mistake that this is down to each of you acting responsibly and acting together as one community.  Your actions, your determination, your sense of duty, and your community spirit have saved lives and safeguarded livelihoods. 

Two weeks today we will be able to celebrate Christmas without the dilemma of choosing who to form a bubble with.  No household visiting restrictions.  No masks.  And having enjoyed a build up to Christmas with celebrations and gatherings that so many others around the globe have been denied.  I know our border restrictions mean that for some of you it may not be exactly the Christmas you would have wished for, but I hope you will agree that it is better than we’d dare to hope for just a few months ago.

That’s all for today, thank you.