“The successful development and imminent arrival of the vaccine seems like the Christmas gift we have all been waiting for.”
With those words, Hon. Premier Alden McClaughlin set the stage for what is expected to be Cayman’s biggest vaccination programme starting as early as January.
“We are hopeful that Cayman will see its first batch arrive in the first week of next year. We anticipate receiving a sufficient number of vaccines in the first batch to immunise several thousand people,” Premier McLaughlin stated.
Making the announcement in Parliament on Thursday, the Premier said getting vaccinated will be voluntary, but he urged the public to keep an open mind about the individual and community benefits.
“I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all those people listening to these proceedings to do their due diligence, and to keep their minds open to the many benefits that participation in the voluntary national vaccination programme will offer.”
Mr McClaughlin said he will be leading by example to get his shot.
With the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine now being rolled out in the UK, its approval imminent in the US, and other vaccines in the pipeline, the Premier said: “This brings us closer to ensuring the safety of those at greatest risk from the effects of COVID-19”.
He explained that this includes those who are older, with conditions and diseases that make them more vulnerable to the disease.
“And while I am not yet in those ranks, Mr Speaker, I will say that I will be one of the first in line to take the vaccine to lead by example and to demonstrate my confidence in the safety of the vaccine,” Premier McClean announced to the Parliament and the nation.
Under the banner of a National COVID-19 Vaccination Plan for Cayman, approved by Cabinet, he reminded that while there has been “much success with the control of COVID-19 on these shores much depends on us maintaining this momentum.”
ELABORATE ROLL-OUT PLAN
Elaborate preparations are currently being made to coordinate the vaccination roll-out which will be augmented by an extensive public information campaign.
“Health officials believe that with all preparations in place they should be able to vaccinate some 3,000 people per week. Once the vaccine arrives on Island a number of groups have been prioritised for the voluntary vaccination.”
On the issue of priority treatment, the Premier confirmed that the objectives of the National Plan closely align with those set out by major public health agencies such as the Pan American Health Organisation and Public Health England.
He said the focus will be on protecting the health care system and infrastructure for the continuity of essential services, by vaccinating health workers at all levels of care, and other essential services established in the country.
Other areas of emphasis include reducing the severe morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19 by protecting the populations at greatest risk from the disease.
The campaign is also aimed at reducing the transmission of infection in the community and generate widespread immunity by expanding vaccination to other groups.
This aspect is expected to be achieved when vaccines become more available through 2021, he explained.
Plans call for administering the COVID-19 vaccine in three stages by diving the Cayman community into priority groups.
Stage One is healthcare workers and institutional residents, along with frontline customer-facing staff working at ports who are constantly exposed to the risks from travellers.
It also includes persons over the age of 60, those suffering from conditions liable to put them at increased risk if they were to contract Covid-19, and workers who are essential for the continuity of Government services.
Stage Two covers essential service workers, teachers and school staff, as well as persons living in the households of anyone from the stage one vaccination programme.
A third stage will immunise the remainder of the population.
The Health Services Authority is said to have large quantities of syringes, needles, sharps boxes and equipment on order for delivery of the doses.
Specialised freezers have also been ordered by the Health Services Authority, and there is already one such freezer at Health City Cayman Islands with spare capacity able to meet our needs.
Senior management and Public Health teams at the Health Services Authority are confident they will be able to start the mass vaccination programme using existing resources.
MASS VACCINATION KEY TO FURTHER BORDER OPENING
Coinciding with the announcement of the planned roll-out of the vaccination campaign, the Premier also updated on the next phase of the opening of the territory’s borders.
“The Ministry of Health has proposed the further opening of borders after Stage Two, around one month into the start of the overall vaccination programme, by which time we should have vaccinated our most vulnerable,” he stated.
That is expected to be around March next year.
But further relaxation of the border restrictions comes with several stipulations.
All travellers entering the Islands with evidence of having been vaccinated before their arrival and a negative PCR test upon arrival will be exempted from quarantine if they are staying with other persons who have also been vaccinated.
Those who do not meet those requirements will be placed in mandatory quarantine and tested.
Regular COVID-19 screening will continue with safety restrictions for healthcare workers, healthcare establishments, nursing homes and prisons.
Persons who are hosting travellers, along with all port workers, hotel workers, restauranteurs, bar workers, leisure companies, taxi drivers and others working in tourism, will also be required to be screened for COVID-19 at regular intervals.
Underlining the significance of the upcoming vaccination campaign, Premier Aldem McLaughlin said, “It seems like the Christmas gift we have all been waiting for.”
He however urged that “we must continue to practice the preventive measures that we have followed thus far, including washing hands, practising respiratory hygiene, and following social distancing recommendations.”
“Doing so will ensure that we in the Cayman Islands stay safe through the holidays and into 2021,” Mr McLaughlin advised.
Stockpiles COVID-19 vaccine expected to arrive early next month, are part of shipments being arranged by the UK for the Overseas Territories.
HE Governor Martyn Roper said the UK fully is committed to supplying vaccines to the Overseas Territories with Cayman, Bermuda and Gibraltar receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine because they have the necessary very low-temperature cold storage facilities.
He said due to logistical considerations, other OTs are likely to get a different drug developed by the company AstraZeneca and Oxford Univrsity.
“There will be enough to vaccinate many thousands of people initially,” the Governor said, adding that, “and once we have shown that logistics here work and that the vaccine can be rolled out effectively, the UK will send far more - relatively quickly after the first batch.”
“I am willing to take the vaccine myself as soon as I am invited to do so and I encourage everyone to do the same. In this way, we can protect our population and get back to normal life.”
Mr Roper also noted that returning travellers remain our greatest risk in managing Covid, and he called on persons arriving in the jurisdiction to “act responsibly” in following the isolation and quarantine requirements.
“Please show CaymanKind and fully comply with our laws and guidance,” he urged.