By Christopher Tobutt
It was a very hopeful day for Cayman when nearly 10,000 doses, the first of what is proposed to be several batches, of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the Cayman Islands from the UK on Tuesday afternoon.
The 9,750 doses are enough for around 5000 of Cayman’s most vulnerable people including persons over 70 years old who may also suffer from other medical conditions, as well as front-line professionals, such as those working in hospitals and workers at airports and other key institutions.
Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin, Hon. Health Minister Dwayne Seymour, His Excellency Governor Martyn Roper, and Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee were present at the Owen Roberts International Airport to witness the consignment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines being unloaded from a British Airways flight from London.
The shipment valued at £200,000 was provided by the British government.
Governor Martyn Roper said: “The development of vaccines is an incredible technological advance to the world, and we are now at the forefront of receiving these vaccines, so I want to say thank-you to the UK government which is providing vaccines to all the overseas territories free of charge, and this consignment of the first 10 thousand doses cost 200,000 UK pounds to provide.”
He said this is a trial-run because the Pfizer vaccine is quite difficult to handle, and needs to be kept in cold-storage.
"But if this can be shown to be made to work, and we can roll these vaccines out over the next few days, I am confident we will get another batch of vaccines on the next BA flight or the one after that," Governor Roper said.
"And because we are small, we can reach immunity relatively quickly. This is a big day and gives us real optimism and confidence for 2021,” he added.
Premier McLaughlin again made the link between the vaccine and the eventual opening up of Cayman's borders.
“We determined some time ago that there is no way to reopen our borders through creating these ‘bubbles’ or anything else that has been proposed. The only way out for the world is for enough people from across the world to develop herd immunity and create the herd immunity effect," the Premier stated.
"It is relatively easy for us in Cayman with a population of 65,000 to be able to do that."
The Premier stressed: "We cannot keep the borders closed indefinitely, and the vaccine is the way out not just for Cayman but for the world. I am hopeful that by the end of March we will be able to immunize enough of our residents so that Cayman can resume an even greater sense of normalcy."
Echoing Premier McLaughlin and making an equally strong appeal to residents to get vaccinated, Hon. Minister of Health Dwayne Seymour said any initial doubts he might have had were overcome as a result of research he personally undertook to satisfy himself about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
"I was a bit sceptical at first," he said. "I did my research. If you see me take it, anyone could take it."
"I could tell you this is safe," Min. Seymour assured pointing out that Cayman has "a unique opportunity" with its population size to achieve 'herd immunity' against COVID-19.
"We are only 65,000 people and it's about 42,000 people to (attain) herd immunity," he said.
In reinforcing his appeal for residents to get inoculated against the virus, Mr Seymour said:
"I want to encourage everyone. There's a lot of negativity going around about reasons not to take the vaccine (but) if we want to get back to some normalcy quickly we need to encourage people to take the vaccine."
"The last thing that we would want is to receive 10,000 doses and after two months we still have 5,000 does," he cautioned referring to the conditions under which the highly-sought-after vaccine was provided to Cayman by the British government.
CMO Dr John Lee credited the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office(FCD)) and Cayman’s government and health authorities for the effort which went into obtaining the vaccine for the jurisdiction.
“Thank you so much to all of the people who made this happen,” Dr Lee said adding that the distribution of the vaccines would start on January 7th.