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Pandemic planning assumed the elderly less at risk

Pandemic planning assumed the elderly less at risk

Thursday 30 April 2020

Pandemic planning assumed the elderly less at risk


The government’s planning for a global pandemic assumed that older people would be less vulnerable than “fit, younger adults” because they may have “residual immunity” from other viruses, it has emerged.

The revelation comes in a 29-page draft document providing the blueprint for how the Channel Islands should respond and who should take charge in case of a global health emergency.

Despite repeated requests, Jersey’s government declined to reveal the latest version of the CI Strategic Pandemic Influenza Plan to Express because it was not complete.

Moves to update the document for the first time in years started following a planning exercise with NHS professionals in late 2019 - despite a pandemic being top of Jersey's Community Risk Register - but changes were put on hold when a real pandemic hit.

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Pictured: Work was never finished to update the old CI Pandemic Plan due to the arrival of covid-19.

However, the draft document has now been released in full and unredacted form by the States of Guernsey (read below).

The emergency plan – which warns in its introduction that a pandemic will “definitely occur, and the only uncertainty about it is when it will happen” – is based around pandemic influenza, but also explains that it should be used as the model for the island dealing with other infectious diseases.

The plan is based around a scenario in which as much of half the population is affected, with no vaccine available for four to six months.

But also among its planning assumptions is a suggestion that older people are less at risk – in contrast to covid-19, according to WHO.

In a section entitled ‘Planning Assumptions’, the plan states that, while it’s impossible to tell who will be hit hardest by a new virus in advance, it was likely that  islanders with underlying conditions, children, pregnant women and fit younger adults would likely be at “greater risk, as older people may have some residual immunity from previous exposure to a similar virus earlier in their lifetime”.

However, it noted that the elderly people were more likely to suffer with several health conditions at once.

Statistics released by the Government of Jersey show that, so far, all islanders who have died with covid-19 have been over the age of 60.

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Pictured: Eight individuals have died in care homes.

Seven individuals in their 70s have passed away, seven in their 80s and five in their 90s.

Eight of the deaths have taken place in local care homes, with the Chief Minister confirming earlier this week that the virus had spread across eight such facilities.

The plan does not address any measures in relation to the elderly or those in residential homes.

It is based around four separate stages:

  • Detection – Gathering information about the illness, enhancing surveillance, developing diagnostics and getting public health messages into the media
  • Assessment and containment – actively finding cases, and isolating them
  • Treatment
  • Escalation – Developing a method to triage patients and services to ensure essential services can continue and contingency planning
  • Recovery – Moving towards a “new definition of what constitutes normal service”, reviewing the response to the health emergency, addressing staff exhaustion, preparing for any seasonal pressures and considering targeted vaccination if possible

It also suggests that the Health Services on both islands make preparations for a pandemic - something the document warns could hit “large swathes” of the population “over a relatively short period of time”.

This should include keeping an updated bank of pandemic-related information, maintaining good lab capacity to be able to detect the virus, and reviewing planning assumptions regularly.

It also says the islands should have “stockpiles of antivirals and antibiotics” – the Chief Pharmacist is deemed responsible for this in Jersey – and that the Health Department should also maintain a stockpile of PPE.

However, it emerged last week that Jersey’s PPE stockpile was axed a decade ago, and that some health professionals are having to wear out-of-date kit, which has been deemed useable by the Health Department. 

Video: A shipment of PPE that arrived last week.

Further to this, it suggests that the Health Department should also manage an advance purchase agreement for a pandemic-specific vaccine. 

According to the document, “Guernsey and Jersey each have a separate formal agreement with a vaccine manufacturer for the supply of pandemic specific influenza vaccine in the event of a pandemic... Jersey’s reserved volume is for 100,000 doses.

“Following a WHO pandemic flu declaration, each island has just 21 days in which to place their own firm order (in writing) with the manufacturer in order to secure pandemic specific vaccine supply for their island. From that point in time, it is likely to take at least four months for the first supplies of pandemic specific vaccine to arrive.”

When Express asked the Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré about pre-purchase agreements last week, he said that none were in place as covid-19 vaccine was yet to be created.

He noted, however, that the Channel Islands should be able to rely on obtaining a vaccine through the UK due to an agreement with the Ministry of Justice.

The document does not mention field hospitals or antibody testing, which will this weekend be rolled out to 500 households before the wider island.

More analysis in Express tomorrow…

CLICK BELOW to read the full plan…

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