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Statement by the Permanent Secretary for Health & Medical Services
Rollout of the Moderna vaccine for children aged 15-17 years
Thursday 16th September 2021
As of today, 580504 Fijians, or 97.7 % of adults in Fiji have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 372434 or 63.5% have stepped up for their second dose and are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. I would like to thank everyone who has come forward and received their first and second dose and encourage those who are still to receive their second dose to come forward when it is due. There simply is no substitute for the full protection of vaccines.
Our target population to date has been eligible Fijians above the age of 18. Virtually, all adults in Fiji. Today, I want to discuss the next phase of our vaccine rollout, which will include young people aged 15 to 17 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tough fight for us all, and it has been especially hard on our children who have been away from school since April of this year. The pandemic has disrupted their education, their learning and development, and the necessary life and social skills they gain by interacting with other children at school. The safest and most sustainable way to get our young people back into the classroom and keep them there is vaccines.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Ministry of Education, Heritage, and the Arts share a long history of collaboration in vaccinating children against serious diseases, like measles. Now, our task is to protect young Fijians from COVID-19. Together, our ministries will begin the rollout of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 15 and 17 years old across Fiji. We have decided to vaccinate children aged 15 and 17 years old first, as these children are mostly in secondary school and some of them are nearing the end of their secondary education. Under the advice of the Ministry of Education, we have been told that the Year 12s and Year 13s also need to sit external exams to progress onto higher education. Details of how this will progress will be announced later by the Ministry of Education.
Vaccination for those in the 12- to 14-year-old age group will be announced at a later date.
Details of the rollout plan
Through the Ministry of Education, the Moderna vaccine will be rolled out by school clusters within the four divisions. Schools that are close by to each other will group to form a cluster, where their student rolls of 15 and 17-year-olds can get vaccinated.
The dates, clusters, and venues for these schools will be announced this weekend for the rollout to begin on Monday, 20th September.
Children will need to receive two doses of the Moderna vaccine which is administered at a dosing interval of 28 days. As parents and guardians, you will be asked to sign a consent form for children receiving this vaccine. You will also be able to register your child online before he or she receives the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. The online registration of children through the Vaccine Registry portal will be available from Saturday before the onsite vaccination campaign beginning this coming Monday.
We will not make it mandatory for children to be vaccinated, though it is the best choice any young person can make for their health and the health of others. Details and dates for when school can safely resume will be announced by the Permanent Secretary for Education in her statement.
Moderna and Pfizer are safe vaccines for children
Children within the 15 – 17-year-old age group will receive the Moderna vaccine, while younger children from 12-14 years will be given the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The roll-out for the Pfizer vaccine will be announced later but the approach will be similar to the Moderna vaccine roll-out for 15-17-year-olds. Like Moderna, the Pfizer vaccine has been approved as safe and effective for children 12 years and older. Clinical trials done among thousands of children showed an overwhelming outcome of safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) so far approved for children. The vaccines protect children against severe illness, hospitalization, and even death from COVID-19.
I would like to assure all parents and guardians in Fiji that these vaccines are safe and have completed all necessary clinical trials for safety and efficacy for children aged 15 and 17. Absolutely no shortcuts were taken in granting approval of these vaccines for children and it continues to be monitored for safety.
As is normal for vaccines, some children may face mild side effects from the vaccines, however, this does not last long. Common side effects may include:
On the arm that the vaccine was administered and in some cases:
If your child experiences some of these side effects after receiving their vaccination, that is a sign that your child’s immune system is learning to fight the virus. You can treat this at home by giving your child the normal dose of paracetamol, and keeping your child hydrated, and having them take a lot of rest. If your child does not have any side effects this does not mean that the vaccine is not working; it is just that each individual’s body reacts differently to vaccines. This is perfectly normal.
The Moderna vaccine is currently being administered to children of the same age in the United Kingdom, the United States, across the European Union, and in Australia and has a 95 percent effectiveness in preventing symptomatic infection and protecting our children from severe illness, hospitalisation, and death due to COVID-19 whilst Pfizer, which has a 92% protection is being administered to children in New Zealand. We have seen how relentless the COVID-19 virus can be, with the deaths of five children, the youngest being 2 months old in Fiji and that is why we have been exploring all avenues at our disposal to find vaccines that are safe and effective for our children.
Like any other vaccine, there is a small chance that children who have been partially or fully vaccinated can still get infected with COVID-19. Though it is exceedingly rare, fully vaccinated people can still get severe COVID-19. And, in even less likely instances, even die. 95% is not 100%. No vaccine offers 100% protection. But 95% is much better than zero. By far, these vaccines and the protection they offer are the best defense we have to keep our children safe against COVID-19.
The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education are also using all avenues available to us to ensure the safety of your children at school through, the vaccination program; enforcement of Covid Safe measures; instituting environmental control measures; and establishing Tests and Trace surveillance protocols in schools. A team of technical persons from the Education and Medical sectors will be working together to identify and implement measures based on lessons learned from other countries to ensure the safety of children as they return to school. The overall intention is to utilize the opening of year 12 and 13 classes to refine the strategies we have in place in a way that is relevant to our local context.
These measures will include:
- All adults working in the school system must be vaccinated. That includes teachers, management, and all staff –– including gardeners and security personnel. Anyone who comes into contact with children or who steps on school grounds must be vaccinated. There is no moral or medical justification for putting students at risk, and individuals who refuse the vaccine have no justification to be anywhere near children in school.
- When schools do open, masks must be worn.
- Non-classroom gatherings will not be permitted. And schools have been directed to improve ventilation and air quality by keeping windows, doors, and vents open where possible and employing mechanical ventilation using fans and ducts. We are also considering the use of portable air cleaners
- Breaks will be staggered to prevent gatherings
- Routine symptom and temperature screening of students and staff at school and testing of all who screen positive. Asymptomatic testing protocols for select groups will be implemented and absentee registry protocols maintained.
I am asking parents and guardians, to please take the time to discuss the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine with those of your children that are to receive the vaccine. Encourage them and assure them that the vaccine is safe, that it is the best protection for them against the severe effects of the COVID-19 virus. Explain how the vaccine will be rolled out and help them to understand why they are being vaccinated first, amongst other school-aged children in Fiji.
We encourage parents and households to also get vaccinated. I urge parents to talk to their households, family, and friends about the need to also get vaccinated, as this adds another layer of protection for children, particularly, as they will increase their interaction with different people as they return to school. We need to be aware, that as more people interacting with children are vaccinated, we increase the protection of our children from COVID.
The Ministry of Health will be working closely with the Ministry of Education, Heritage, and Arts to ensure that all parents/guardians and children are well informed of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine before getting vaccinated and the processes involved in vaccination.
Over the next few days, and coming weeks, the Health Ministry will facilitate and host discussions online and through mainstream media inviting parents and guardians, CSO’s and faith-based leaders, and the public at large to discuss and receive further information about the COVID-19 vaccination program for 15 – 17-year-olds and children’s vaccination in general. Dates and times for these webinars and information sessions will be shared on the Ministry’s social media channels, Fijian Government channels, and through the media.
We are still in the process of finalizing the rollout plans for vaccinating children from 12 years to 14 years old, and this will be announced in due course, once we firm up plans.
Further details of the vaccination program for eligible children will be announced through the Fijian Government and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services Facebook pages and Ministry of Health and Medical Services website and the media.
Whilst we have a prospect of hope to vaccinate our children and to provide them with an extra layer of protection against COVID-19, I cannot reinforce enough, that we must all continue to practice other COVID-19 safety measures if we want to see a drop in COVID-19 cases in our community. This means wearing a mask properly, covering our coughs and sneezes, washing our hands regularly with soap and water or a hand sanitizer, keeping a 2m physical distance from others outside our household, and avoiding crowds. Without these measures, and low levels of vaccination coverage, we can expect to see COVID-19 continue to spread in our communities and affect those who are most vulnerable.
We also face a big threat with an ongoing battle against misinformation, and we counter this by providing you honest and verifiable facts and information about what is happening on the ground with our COVID-19 response. It is a continuous battle, and we can beat this misinformation together by getting our information from credible sources, for us that would be the Fijian Government and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services Facebook pages, and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services website. We will ensure that we provide you with the information that you need to make an informed decision to vaccinate your children when the vaccine program rolls out.
We look forward to your continuous support towards our vaccination programs and we know that you will help us to protect the most vulnerable in our society and we can start by ensuring that our children receive the Moderna and later the Pfizer vaccine.