Bula Vinaka

As of today, Thursday, 16th September 2021, 580504 adults in Fiji have received their first dose of the vaccine and 372,434 have received their second doses. This means that 97.7% of the target population have received at least one dose and 63.5% are now fully vaccinated nationwide. It is great to see the way Fijians have turned out to receive both doses of the vaccine. As we have said from the start, this fight will only be won if we work together and all do our part. 

Thank you for continuing to turn out in numbers to get vaccinated.

Today we announce the roll-out of the vaccine for children aged 15 to 17 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a hard battle for us all, and it has been especially hard on our children who have been away from school since April this year.

The pandemic has disrupted their education, their learning and development and the necessary life and social skills they receive by interacting with other children at school.

We, however, have a glimmer of hope for our children returning to school and regaining their educational journeys.

I am pleased to announce that as of Monday, 20th September 2021, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts, 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.

Details of 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 together 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 with the second dose administered 28 days after the first dose. 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. We will publish more details of this on our social media channels and through the media.

We will not make it mandatory for children to be vaccinated and the vaccination program will be continuously promoted as school starts and will be ongoing. So the opening of schools will not be predicated on all children being vaccinated. There will be other measures that we will put in place to improve covid safety in schools and I will talk about them later 

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 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: 
•             Pain
•             Redness
•           Swelling on the arm that the vaccine was administered and in some cases:
•    Headache 
•    Nausea 
•    Vomiting 
•    Fatigue 
•    Chills 
•    Fever

If your child experiences some of these side effects after receiving their vaccination, that is actually 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 effect 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. And sadly, fully vaccinated people can still get severe COVID-19 and die. 95% is not 100%. No vaccine offers 100% protection but I can assure you that this is the best defense we have right now to keep our children safe against COVID-19. The less people experiencing severe disease, means that we can dedicate our resources to the care of those that do experience severe symptoms.

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 Test and Trace surveillance protocols in schools. A team of technical persons from the Education and Medical sector will be working together to identify and implement measures based on lessons learnt 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.
Some measures identified are:
o    All adults involved in the school system must be vaccinated. This includes teachers, management personnel, handymen, gardeners, security personnel, canteen staff and any other person over 18 who may come into contact with the children in the school.
o    Proper masking will be strongly enforced especially indoors with scheduled hand sanitization.
o    Breaks will be staggered to reduce gatherings
o    All formal gatherings will not be permitted
o    Schools will need to have in place measures to improve ventilation and air quality to support their current COVID safe measures and
o    There will be 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 also be implemented and absentee registry protocols instituted.
o    Ensuring that all classrooms are well ventilated, with windows and doors opened where possible and appropriate.

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 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. 

I also urge parents to talk to your households, family and friends on 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 encourage parents and households to also get vaccinated. We need to be aware, that as more people interacting with children are vaccinated, we increase 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 COVID-19 vaccination programme for 15 -17 year olds and for children’s vaccination in general. Dates and times for these webinars and information session will be shared on the Ministry 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 through 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 sanitiser, 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 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.

Thank you.