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Government announces the arrival of vaccines and the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination strategy; GHA Operation Freedom – 28/2021

By January 8, 2021 No Comments

Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar is delighted to announce that the first delivery of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday 9 January 2021. Upon arrival, the vaccine will be immediately be taken directly to dedicated freezers in the basement of St Bernard’s Hospital and kept at -75 degrees centigrade.

This first delivery is being provided to Gibraltar by the UK Government as part of its programme to supply the Overseas Territories, as such the methodology of delivery is the same as it is in the UK.

A 5850 doses of the vaccine will be received in this first delivery. The second delivery of the vaccine is expected by the end of January. The aim to have vaccinated all over 70s with at least one dose by mid February, assuming that the vaccines arrive as planned.

The order in which the vaccines will be offered will follow a modified version of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority schedule as detailed below:

Priority Risk group:
1. Residents in ERS and their carers
2. All those 80 years of age and over
3. All those 70 years of age and over and frontline health and social care workers
4. Clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
5. All those 65 years of age and over
6. All individuals aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality (see Appendix A or Chapter 14a)
7. All those 50 – 65 years of age
8. All those 16 – 50 years of age
9. All those who are cross frontier workers who are entitled to free healthcare in Gibraltar

The vaccination programme will start at 8am on Sunday 10 January and the first to receive the vaccine shall be the residents and care staff at ERS.
There will be two parallel vaccination operations on Sunday and multiple vaccination stations will be set up at St Bernard’s Hospital for GHA front line staff.

The vaccination programme for the public will commence on Monday 11th January and will be at the former Primary Care Centre at the ICC. These premises were given up by the GHA last year, but the premises has been very generously loaned to the Government free of charge to deliver the vaccination programme to the people of Gibraltar.

Teams have been deployed to the Primary Care Centre to contact people to take the vaccine. People over the age of 70 have been contacted over the past few days for their appointments next week.

All individuals eligible to be vaccinated will be contacted and offered an appointment time and date from Monday onwards. Each appointment slot will be 15 minutes long to take into account the time required to go through any questions and concerns, confirm signed consent and to administer the vaccine. Once administered, individuals will be asked to stay for 15 minutes to ensure that there are no reactions or they are feeling unwell. As an individual leaves the vaccination centre, they will be given a vaccination card conforming that the first dose has been given. The vaccination card is simply a confirmation of the first dose given and not a travel or immunity document at this stage. They will be contacted subsequently with an appointment for the follow up second dose.

There will be no option to change the appointment once it has been made due to operational issues as this could risk them being wasted. It is important that people attend the appointment that they have been offered as there is a risk that the dose may be lost otherwise.

The vaccine will be offered to all in the priority groups except:
1. Those who wish to decline the vaccine.

2. Or those who cannot receive the vaccine for one of the following reasons:
• If they currently have COVID-19 symptoms;
• If they have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 28 days;
• If they are pregnant, they should seek advice from their obstetrician;
• If they have a severe allergy against multiple drugs or unexplained anaphylaxis, they will have an epipen too.

The GHA had set up a working group to direct the administration of the vaccines, led by the Director of Public Health. The committee have carried out a huge amount of work to be able to deliver the vaccine. The strategy has become known within the GHA as Operation Freedom as this will be the first step which will get us closer to normality.

Specific teams have been set up to give effect to the strategy, three teams of dedicated vaccinators, administrators and IT support. The vaccinations teams who will administer the vaccines have had to undergo special training because of the sensitivity of the vaccine.

Minister with Responsibility for Health and Care, Samantha Sacramento MP said, ‘In addition to having to manage our health and care services during this surge, the Director of Public Health and health care professionals within the GHA have also undertaken the mammoth task of having to prepare a vaccination strategy.

For infection control purposes, the Elderly Residential Services team have developed their own strategy and their staff have undergone training on the vaccination so that all staff and residents can be vaccinated in-house.

The endeavour has appropriately been coined Operation Freedom to reflect that this vaccine marks the start of the release of many difficult months dealing with COVID-19.

All my teams have worked tirelessly to put things in place to deliver a seamless service that will benefit Gibraltar, for which I am extremely grateful.”