COVID-19 Update 13-06-2022
Last Updated on 10 months by Publishing Team
Monday 13th June
As we enter our cool and dry season we continue to record an increasing trend in respiratory infections, especially in children. An increase in admissions at the children’s hospital at CWMH was announced some weeks ago- samples collected from some of the hospitalised children tested negative for COVID-19 and influenza at Fiji CDC. A subset of samples sent to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory in Melbourne detected seasonal respiratory viruses that cause the common cold, but may cause severe respiratory illness in children under the age of 5. This is made up of a number of respiratory viruses that cause cold and flu symptoms. It has been expected that as restrictions intended to prevent transmission of COVID-19 were lifted (including mandatory masking, physical distancing, and school and border closures) other respiratory viruses that normally circulate would begin to re-emerge similar to pre-COVID levels, and possibly even at higher levels due to a decrease in population immunity to seasonal viruses, as cold/flu cases were low during the last two years.
For COVID 19;
- As reported we continue to see an increasing trend. Recent severe disease and death have been seen only in those with severe comorbidities (underlying illnesses)Also, they are either unvaccinated or have not received the booster dose that would be appropriate given the well-known recommendation for those with severe comorbidities to have at least one booster dose if not both. Today there is sadly another death due to severe COVID in a person with severe comorbidity who was not vaccinated.
- Private laboratories, GPs, and pharmacies that are part of the Ministry’s testing network (through application to the COVID Risk Mitigation Taskforce) are authorized to conduct COVID-19 testing and as such must comply with the established system of reporting positive and negative results to the MOHMS. Positive cases reported by private facilities to the MOHMS are reported in the regular public updates.
- Anyone who is sick should not be attending work or school. If you have COVID-19 symptoms you must get tested for COVID-19. If you test positive- isolation is mandatory for 7 days.
- Vaccines have provided a level of protection from severe disease and death such that the increasing trends in cases remain less of a concern. However, we have maintained a number of public health mandates and measures that relate to vaccination and incoming travel. The Ministry of Health and Medical Services envision that the more the booster dose the better the level of protection, and the safer it will be to further remove the remaining public health measures. The Ministry is currently looking at 80% booster coverage for those over 18 years of age.
We also note that we are in the middle of our chickenpox season, which can be mistaken for what many have read about monkeypox. We need to be clear that we have yet to diagnose a case of monkeypox in Fiji. MOHMS have also released a number of advisories for the public. And we have released guidelines to all clinicians in the public and private sectors in order to facilitate early case identification and reporting.
Increasing Vaccine Booster Coverage Program
It is well documented that immunity against COVID-19 infection acquired from COVID-19 vaccination wanes over time. The effectiveness of protection against COVID-19 after a primary series of AstraZeneca vaccination is slightly lower than with other COVID-19 vaccine products, especially against the Omicron variant of concern. However, receiving a third dose (booster dose), especially of an mRNA vaccine-like Pfizer or Moderna, boosts immunity against infection.
There is also evidence that prior infection with a non-Omicron variant or the Omicron sublineages of BA.1 and BA.2 may not protect against infection with Omicron sublineages BA.4 and BA.5, which are now dominant in some countries- though some protection against severe disease is still expected. There is no evidence that BA.4 and BA.5 cause more severe disease than previous variants. The latest genomics sequencing results show that Omicron sublineages BA.1 and BA.2 are in circulation in Fiji, while BA.4 and BA.5 have not yet been detected.
This means that, once these sublineages enter the community, it is expected that people may get infected, even if they have been infected before; and while the risk of severe disease is expected to remain low in those who have had 2 doses and have no underlying illnesses, increased sickness may still have a negative impact on the workforce. And people who have underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease etc. will continue to be at higher risk of severe disease and death.
These considerations, and the current noticeable increase in cases, indicate an urgency to increase our efforts to increase booster dose coverage. The return of most of the medical immunisation staff has also helped to ensure support for escalating our vaccine booster coverage program.
Based on this and international evidence the Ministry recommends the booster dose interval for eligible persons over 18 years be reduced to 3 months after the 2nd dose in recognition;
- of the risk of disease surge based on waning 2 doses of COVID-19 vaccine protection
- slow booster uptake
- increased international travel with the relaxation of border measures
- ongoing outbreaks in various parts of the world with an increase in Omicron sublineages that may evade infection-induced immunity from other variants
Hence, we urge the public to get booster vaccine doses with a list of vaccination sites provided daily by the MHMS. Currently, both Pfizer and Moderna are recommended for booster doses.
In order to optimise coverage, the aim of the booster campaign is to administer 250,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine to those who have completed the primary series (doses 1 and 2) > 3 months prior but have not yet received a booster dose. This requires a minimum of 32,000 doses to be administered weekly for 8 weeks from 1 June to 31 July 2022. Based on the COVID-19 18 years + target population of 618,172 each division and subdivision will need to administer the number of doses outlined in Table 1 based on the 8-week target of 250,000 doses and weekly target of 32,000 doses.
COVID-19 booster priority populations are;
- Persons over the age of 18 years who have completed their primary series > 3months prior can receive their 1st booster dose
- Immunocompromised persons and those over the age of 60 years who had received the 3rd booster dose, may receive the 4th dose after a period of 4 months
- Health care workers, port staff, tourism and others who wish to receive a 2nd booster dose may receive it after an interval of 4 months from their first booster dose.
- Anyone over the age of 18 years who have taken their 1st booster dose can receive a 2nd booster dose after an interval of 4 months.
- Micro planning workshops commenced in the Central Division on 30th May 2022. Western and Northern Division will start on 6th June 2022. Follow-up supervisory visits will occur weekly until the end of June.
Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) will run parallel with the booster dose campaigns.
Planned Activities Include (but are not limited to):
- Discussion on information, education and communication materials including booklets, brochures, frequently asked questions pamphlets
- Promotional materials – pull-up banners, stickers, sign boards for sites, network top-ups and Got my Booster water bottles and caps.
- Social media campaigns.
- COVID-19 booster drive/drive-through at markets, bus stands, events and faith-based organisations
- Radio messaging and announcements with daily targeted messages and sharing of vaccine site locations
- Community health worker training sharing information on booster doses
- Television advertisements
All these activities will be supported by MOHMS, South Pacific Community (SPC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and WHO.
International communicable disease outbreaks
As previously mentioned, the Ministry’s Fiji Centre for Disease Control (Fiji CDC) and Border Health Protection Unit (BHPU) are monitoring international outbreaks of concern, which include Ebola Virus Disease in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Japanese Encephalitis in Australia, acute hepatitis of unknown origin in multiple countries, and monkeypox in the United Kingdom and other countries. Where appropriate, specific interventions have been put in place or strengthened in response. The situation will continue to be monitored, assessed, and responded to based on the available scientific evidence, best practice, and advice from expert authorities.
As we continue our recovery path during this pandemic, the strategies for resilience require urgent and early preparedness and response planning against any potential threat.
Monkeypox is a rare disease that is caused by infection with the monkeypox virus. It is endemic to certain countries in Central and Western Africa, and the causative virus is of the same family as the smallpox virus. Monkeypox outbreaks have been recently reported in a growing number of countries that are not endemic to the disease, including the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands Canada, the United States of America, and Australia.
Monkeypox is usually a self-limiting illness, which means that most people recover with just supportive treatment within several weeks. However, severe illness can occur in some individuals. It does not spread easily between people but person-to-person transmission may occur through:
- contact with clothing or linens (such as bedding or towels) used by an infected person
- direct contact with monkeypox skin lesions or scabs
- exposure to respiratory droplets eg coughing or sneezing
The Ministry working with communications and community engagement teams have produced public advisories to help arm ourselves with the knowledge to protect ourselves and to help reduce the chances of spread in our community. Infection prevention protocols have been put together at the border and in community facilities. Protocols have been initiated to maintain oversight over travellers from selected countries to ensure early diagnosis, treatment, and contact tracing. The public advisories have covered symptoms to enable the public to quickly recognize symptoms and seek medical care while preventing transmission to others.
All doctors and Nurses in the community need to ensure they are well informed of how cases present and be vigilant in helping to ensure cases are diagnosed early. The Ministry’s guidelines for early detection and response, as well as laboratory testing, have been distributed to all public and private clinicians.
The major priority for the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is to have a response plan that will include surveillance with rapid response and containment protocols and at the same time have a minimal social and economic impact. A key focus will be on ensuring that those suspected or confirmed to have monkeypox must be able to be managed in a dignified manner with no threat of stigmatisation. Each citizen’s duty to contribute to protecting Fiji must be the priority.
We are in discussions with our reference laboratory in Melbourne to ensure access to definitive tests. Our ongoing efforts to have genomic sequencing capability in the Fiji CDC will provide us with greater capacity to deal with infection threats now and in the future.
We are also in discussions with WHO to ensure we preposition access to vaccines and medications used to treat monkeypox.
However, it is important to ensure that in escalating community-wide infection prevention and control measures, we are responding to current threats and creating community-wide resilience to upcoming threats. Our ongoing engagement in a healthy lifestyle to mitigate NCDs is also part of the overall focus on building back better and stronger.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services will CONTINUE TO disseminate more specific advisories over the next few days to weeks. Further updated knowledge about the monkeypox virus will be shared as they are known.
Ongoing Medical Recovery Efforts
With reducing COVID-19 cases and people presenting to health centres with acute respiratory illness, the MOHMS team is better positioned to focus more on health facilities and health care provision capabilities to mitigate against severe disease and death. This will include the ongoing community engagement and outreach program to facilitate early diagnosis and treatment in the community, and the maintenance of health facility readiness to provide treatment.
We have received a large number of drugs and consumables that have finally arrived and a nationwide deployment effort is currently underway to facilitate the delivery of these items to all our medical facilities. Also, a supply chain management digital platform has been launched and we expect to see improvements in the supply of consumables and medicines as a result of these initiatives.
Our command and operation centres have been repurposed to maintain a line list of vulnerable cases in the community and work on processes that will allow for more preemptive response and promote broader community resilience. These command centres and operation centres will also provide oversight on community surveillance indicators to ensure early and measured responses to future outbreaks.
We are also focused on carrying out general health service work more efficiently in all facilities, and a key part of our plan is to set up divisional mobile units to supplement facility-based general servicing capability and also work with private providers through a process for pre-qualifying contractors and/or suppliers for each subdivision.
The engagement of General Practitioners, Private Dental Practitioners, Private Medical Laboratories, and Private Ambulance providers to support our services in a public-private partnership arrangement is a strategy to help in our ongoing recovery efforts.
We also have reformulated a framework to better engage customer service initiatives in all health facilities and allow for senior managers to institute substantive actions and provide direct oversight over implementation plans. It will also allow the Ministry’s senior executives to track progress in implementation and ensure that annual operation plans reflect an evolving and progressive change narrative in the successive plans. These initiatives will also include the processing of internal communications to facilitate timely decision-making and action within the Ministry.