Good afternoon everyone and thank-you for joining us.
Today’s briefing will focus on our COVID-19 vaccination programme and plans for roll-out across the Island.
We flagged in advance that this session would be a ‘vaccination special’ - an opportunity to share our plans with you, and for the media to ask the many questions that I know they have.
As the Department of Health and Social Care is heading the vaccination programme and so the Chief Minister has asked me to lead today’s briefing.
Joining me for today’s briefing are two people who have been at the forefront of our pandemic response and are now centre-stage in the vaccination programme: the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Health and Social Care Kathryn Magson and the Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart.
I will be handing over to Kathryn and Henrietta to give you their updates shortly.
Once again we are able to say the Isle of Man is COVID-free - as, since yesterday, we have no active cases of the virus.
As always, we do not know how long this situation will continue. The cases that we have seen have stemmed from travel to the United Kingdom - and our citizens remain free to travel to and from the Island under our current border arrangements. So it is likely that further cases will arise among people self-isolating at home after their travels.
But for now, I’m sure we all welcome knowing there are ZERO active cases on our Island – that, as it always has been, is down to the willingness of the public to comply with the rules, and a collective determination to supress the virus and protect our health and care services. So I offer a heartfelt thank you to ‘the Great Manx Public’ as the Chief Minister would say if he was here, for helping to keep our island community safe.
Clearly, now there is a huge determination to get vaccines rolled out as soon as possible. Yes, COVID-19 infections in England have fallen during the second lockdown, but transmission, hospital admissions and deaths are still at worrying levels.
Vaccination will help bring down infection rates and help save lives. So here on our island we share the impulse to implement a mass vaccination programme.
So the question is, how will we do it? Our vaccination programme board is working extremely hard to ensure our roll-out is safe, timely and effective.
It is important we do not lose sight of the fact this is the biggest mass vaccination programme ever undertaken, and while we have plenty of resources and experience to draw from, nothing quite like this has been done before.
This week we heard the long-awaited news that the first proven effective vaccine – the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine - has cleared all the hurdles and won approval from the medicines regulator.
This is a landmark in the unfolding story of COVID-19, the moment we have been waiting for, a green light to put in motion plans to vaccinate our community against this cruel virus, and look towards a brighter future with real optimism.
The vaccine can now be shipped from the factory in Belgium to the UK. And from there, we can expect swift onward delivery of our share to us.
I will come on to our roll-out plans shortly. But let’s stop to explore the steps which have led to the vaccine being authorised as safe – and how the UK became the first country in the world to achieve this.
I’d now like to invite our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart to talk a bit more about the vaccine and some of the key issues around it.
Thank you Henrietta.
So, we are nearing the stage of getting ‘boots on the ground’ to deliver the vaccine.
In terms of vaccination supplies, as we have confirmed before, we have firm assurances that we will get a proportionate share, on a per-capita basis.
As you can imagine, there is activity on many fronts to get the vaccination ‘machine’ primed and ready to roll.
I’d like now to hand over to our CEO Kathryn Magson for some further insight into the planning and logistics involved in this unique and fascinating project.
Kathryn, over to you.
Thank you Kathryn.
As Kathryn described, the process we are in is subject to change on a daily, sometimes an hourly, basis. This may be typical in a complex distribution operation – and the mechanics behind the scenes are for us to sort out.
But it is a modelling exercise like no other. It was never going to be easy so I would like to take the opportunity to thank of those involved in the logistics and planning for this programme for the hard work and commitment they have already shown in ensuring we have robust processes in place.
We will share as much information and background context as we can on our web pages and social media channels. And we will give further briefings on the way people will be contacted for vaccination, what they can expect and what they need to do, in the coming weeks.
I turn now to the Island’s Borders Framework. I know that some of you have hoped that we would relax our current restrictions and move from Level 4 where we are now, to level 3A, to allow close family to visit for Christmas.
Today, Council of Ministers considered a detailed paper looking at the pros and cons of taking such a step.
It is – as we have always said – a balance of risks. We have looked closely at would result from a change to 3A. Our experts’ modelling takes into account current transmission data in the UK, the likely number of people who would come here if we changed our borders policy, and thus the likely number of additional imported cases we would see.
We have also looked at the winter pressures facing our health and care services, and in particular Noble’s Hospital.
These winter challenges are compounded by the UK COVID-19 situation and staffing issues. We nurse patients returning from treatment in the UK while they isolate in hospital, alongside increased demand in virtually all areas. Put simply, we don’t want to see pressures and demand increase. The safety of our hospital and availability of treatment and care for our population is paramount.
I said we considered all factors. On the other side of the argument we considered that being able to see our loved ones from across would be welcomed by many, and bring positive mental health benefits – and we do not underestimate for one moment the impact that our current restrictions are having on some individuals and families.
So we have weighed demand, risks and benefits of changing tack now. We have signalled in recent briefings that a very convincing case would need to be made to move from Level 4: but at present, the risks are too great. So I can confirm there will be no change to our borders policy this side of Christmas.
I know people will be disappointed, but the risk of re-seeding COVID-19 in the community is real. If it led to spread in the community we could see the return of social distancing, wearing of facemasks and restrictions on social gatherings. We have enjoyed a unique freedom to go about our normal lives in the last few months. I think we deserve to celebrate Christmas after the year we have endured. But again I do not for one moment underestimate the fact that this will be disappointing for some people and cause anxiety for them particularly at this time of year but I thank them for their continued patience.
And now to questions from the media.
Thank you for those questions.
Christmas is now in sight, advent calendars are being opened, the festive spirit is in the air. Big crowds enjoyed the switch-on of the Christmas lights in Peel and Castletown last weekend and festive events are being held this weekend across the Island, many in support of local good causes.
According to the weatherman, some wintry weather and a touch of the white stuff may be on the way.
Enjoy the run-up to Christmas and make the most of what the Island has to offer. As the Chief Minister said last week, if we hold our course, work together and follow the rules, we can keep our community safe, enjoy the festive season, and protect our precious health and care services.
That’s all for today, thank you.