PACT GOVERNMENT INTENSIFIES COVID VACCINATION DRIVE
Hon. Premier of the Cayman Islands, Wayne Panton, used his new administration’s first press conference on Wednesday to drive home the importance of residents to take their COVID-19 vaccinations.
The need to increase vaccine uptake which has fallen off recently from the previous high levels is a priority concern for the government Premier Panton said.
He was accompanied by Hon Minister for Health and Wellness, Sabarina Turner; Hon. Minister for Tourism and Transport, Kenneth Bryan; and Minister for Finance and Economic Development Chris Saunders. Also in attendance were HE Governor Martyn Roper and Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee along with the Medical Officer of Health Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez.
To underline the urgency of the situation, the PACT (People-driven, Accountable, Competent and Transparent) coalition will kick off the intensified campaign with an all-day vaccination drive this Saturday May 8th from 10am at the Owen Roberts International Airport vaccination centre.
Premier Panton’s concern over the recent slowed pace of vaccination uptake comes against the backdrop of current stocks of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine donated by the British government now reaching their expiry deadline by the end of June.
He framed his appeal for residents to get vaccinated as a matter of both a public health and economic urgency.
“We come here today, today before you with an urgent message that is vital to the future well being of the Cayman Islands,” the Premier said.
“As many of you know, the stock of the COVID-19 vaccine provided to the Cayman Islands by the United Kingdom earlier this year is set to expire at the end of June, with some 14,000 doses still remaining.”
In urging persons who have not yet taken their shots, Premier Panton emphasised that it would be hard to justify having vaccines expire in the Cayman Islands while other countries are struggling to obtain supplies.
“I don't think the Cayman Islands can waste a precious resource like this with our neighbours and others around the world desperate to have an increased supply. So we are imploring all of our fellow residents to please make the necessary arrangements to attend the Owen Roberts vaccination centre, as soon as possible to get their first shots.”
In imploring persons to get their jabs, Premier Panton added that: “This is essential to our future potential to reopen our borders and restart tourism, and we are within striking distance of this now.”
TARGET OPENING STRATEGY MAINTAINED
Mr Panton said the PACT administration will maintain the target opening date set by the previous government linked to a 70 per cent vaccination rate. But he said their suggestions of an 80 per cent uptake might be impractical under the circumstances.
“The last government had set the target vaccination rate at which borders would reopen at around 70 to 80% of the total population. We believe that while 80 per cent percent may be difficult to achieve, 70% is much more doable.”
The Premier implored residents to comply with the appeal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with the same level of commitment they showed during the lockdown period of last year.
THE GOVERNOR'S DILEMMA
HE Governor Martyn Roper echoed Premier Panton's appeal for the remaining persons to get vaccinated.
He said while Cayman is still at the top of the global vaccination table, the slowed pace of the vaccination uptake would make it challenging for him to request further supplies for the British government if the current quantities are allowed to expire and thrown away.
“In April, the take up really slowed and in fact I think it actually stalled in April, although the last couple of days, we've seen an uptick which is really positive so maybe some of the messages are being received.”
Mr Roper is concerned about the likelihood of the current vaccine stocks expiring without being administered.
“Whilst the UK is committed to continue supplying us with all the vaccines we need, including adapted doses to tackle any new strains of COVID and possibly booster vaccines in the autumn, if they are needed, I'm sure you will appreciate that for me as governor, it is difficult to ask for more vaccine if we haven't used the supplies that we that we currently have,” the Governor cautioned.
He said since February Cayman has received six shipments of the Pfizer vaccine at no cost to Cayman - “enough to vaccinate two-thirds of thirds of our total population, which is about 82% of everyone over 16.”
The Governor reinforced the message that current stocks of vaccine need to be administered for both reasons of public health and the economy, as well ensuring that a message is not sent they are being dumped because of vaccine hesitancy.
“The ninth of June is the deadline for getting the first dose with the 14,000 doses that we have left. And again we can all see the desperate situation in other parts of the world caused by a lack of vaccines and I think there would be significant outrage and even distress in some quarters if we weren't able to use the vaccines that we have been sent.”
Mr Roper said he strongly supported the cautious approach of the new government in the reopening of the borders until more people are vaccinated, adding that “like everyone else, I encourage everyone to do their bit and take the vaccine, which will put us in a much stronger position going forward.
A SLIGHT UPTICK IN UPTAKE
Giving an update on the broad COVID campaign, Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee addressed the urgency of stepping up vaccinations - which he noted has started to regain momentum in recent days.
“The difference between the numbers totally vaccinated, and those having had their first dose is getting smaller and smaller,” he noted.
“We have had an uptick in take up of vaccinations with our strong messaging, and we really hope that that continues...until we've used our supply, which should be enough to vaccinate an additional 7000 odd people.”
But he added: “We need to get the density of coverage up in the community and only by doing that because of the amount of travel we have that affects our country” - compared to others.
Dr Lee also advised that the need for Cayman to reach its vaccination target was critical not only to reopening the borders but as a public health priority with more variants of the COVID-19 virus emerging.
MINISTRY OF HEALTH AND WELLNESS
With the focus of the initial press conference of the PACT administration on stepping up the vaccination campaign, other ministers also addressed the urgency of the situation.
Hon. Minister of the rebranded Ministry of Health and Wellness, Sabrina Turner, said she took her first jab on Wednesday and encouraged others to do likewise, especially for the all-day vaccination rally on Saturday.
“I am publicly appealing to all of you to just go and get vaccinated. This Saturday, come on out to the Owen Roberts International Airport, and join us and be a part of this vaccination process.”
Minister Turner also said that along with the Public Health and the Health Services Authority, the Ministry of Health and Wellness will continue to encourage many residents as possible to get vaccinated and is looking at setting up mobile vaccination units.
EYES ON THE VACCINATION PRIZES
Hon. Minister for Tourism and Transport, Kenneth Bryan said persons coming out to get vaccinated will be entered in a draw for a number of prizes ranging from free flights on Cayman Airways, to staycations, dinners and other gifts.
Mr Bryan who will be taking his first COVID-19 shot this weekend underlined that hitting the vaccination target was critical to Cayman reopening its borders, and rejuvenating the tourism sector and the wider economy.
“To demonstrate how much we want to encourage you to get vaccinated, the Ministry of Tourism will be hosting an island-wide draw... for some amazing prizes, and there's still more to come.”
By the end of the press conference he reported that more companies were already offering more prizes as part of the vaccination drive.