Cayman will be rolling out a mass inoculation campaign starting early January once COVID-19 vaccines arrive on local shores, Premier Alden McLaughlin said on 10 Dec. He pledged to be among the first to take the jab.
Speaking in Parliament, McLaughlin said based on the planned roll-out of vaccines and how well government is able to convince the population to get vaccinated, government would be in a position to feel secure about opening local borders by March.
“Because by then we would have had enough of our people inoculated to create the oft-talked-about herd immunity which will protect the entire community,” he said, adding that all of this remains contingent on the public’s participation in the vaccination exercise. This as McLaughlin responded to questions from Opposition Leader Arden McLean following his statement.
As he unveiled his national plan, which has been approved by Cabinet, McLaughlin said priority will be given to those over 60 years old, and people who have certain defined conditions and diseases that make them more vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus.
“And while I am not yet in those ranks, 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,” he said.
The vaccine will greatly reduce the chances of getting COVID-19, and “the potential severity of the illness if we should contract it, but nothing is guaranteed”, he said.
Staged roll-out planned
While McLaughlin said he could not provide an exact arrival date, he said he expects doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine to arrive here within the first week of January.
“We anticipate receiving a sufficient number of vaccines in the first batch to immunise several thousand people. Additionally, government has contracted with the coronavirus COVAX facility organised by the international vaccines agency, Gavi, to provide further vaccines.
Who gets vaccine first?
1. Healthcare workers and institutional residents
2. Frontline customer-facing staff working at ports
3. People over age 60, and those suffering from conditions putting them at increased risk
4. Essential government workers
1. Essential service workers, teachers and school staff
2. Those living in the households of anyone from the stage one vaccination programme
1 The remainder of the population
The premier said the vaccines will be provided by the United Kingdom and will be free.
He stressed inoculation will be voluntary but he encouraged the public to do their to do due diligence, and to keep their minds open to the benefits that participation will offer.
“It is an opportunity for us, as individuals, to take action to protect this community that we love so much, and which has done so much for us, while at the same time we protect ourselves,” he said.
The vaccinations will be rolled out in stages, McLaughlin said, and Cayman will be in a position to deliver 3,000 doses per week based on current resources.
“Once the vaccine arrives on island, a number of groups have been prioritised for the voluntary vaccination,” he said.
These groups include healthcare workers and institutional residents to reduce the risk of spreading COVID between care givers and those they care for, and protects those that are not able to physically distance.
Another priority group comprises frontline customer-facing staff working at ports who are constantly exposed to the risks from travellers as well as those over 60 years old.
Those suffering from conditions that put them at increased risk if they were to contract COVID-19 and workers who are essential for the continuity of government services will also be vaccinated as part of stage one.
The second stage of the plan, he said, will include essential workers, teachers and school staff and those living in the households of anyone who was vaccinated in stage one.
The final stage of the vaccination programme will consist of vaccinating the remainder of the population.
New travel protocols to follow vaccination
The premier, in his statement, said the Ministry of Health has proposed the further opening of borders after stage two, which is expected to be around one month after the start of the vaccination programme.
Changes in restrictions for those arriving from overseas will include proof of vaccination if they wish to be exempted from quarantine.
“This should have been completed before arrival, according to recommendations by the Public Health Department,” McLaughlin said. “They must also receive negative results from a PCR test upon arrival. Persons who meet these conditions will be exempted from quarantine, if living in households where the other residents have also received a vaccine.”
All people who are exempted under these conditions and their household members, the premier said, will undergo repeat testing on day five, day 10 and day 15 following their arrival date.
The vaccination requirement is not mandatory for entry into Cayman.
Travelers who do not meet the requirements will need to go into mandatory quarantine and be tested according to the requirements at the time of the border reopening.
Regular PCR screening will continue with safety restrictions for healthcare workers, healthcare establishments, nursing homes and prisons.
McLaughlin also introduced a new requirement for regular COVID-19 testing for tourism workers, including restaurateurs, taxi drivers, and those hosting travellers.
Rapid testing may also be used to provide simpler access to testing for COVID-19, he said.
McLaughlin acknowledged that the plan and initiatives may raise concerns about a possible spike in cases.
However, he said government will remain vigilant throughout the roll-out, the proposed travel changes, and their impact on the community.
“Should there be an indication of substantial and worrisome community transmission of COVID-19 cases in the Cayman Islands, or if we were required to move up a suppression level, preventive measures will be promptly tightened through Public Health regulations, as they have been in the past. If this happens, we will see a return to the wearing of masks in public places, physical distancing and the use of protective barriers to minimise further spread of the COVID-19 disease,” he said.