With Cayman’s first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines now on island, Premier Alden McLaughlin has said government will commence its national vaccination plan Thursday when he and Governor Martyn Roper receive the inaugural jabs.
McLaughlin, speaking at the Owen Roberts International Airport on Tuesday, welcomed the arrival of the 9,750 doses of the vaccine, which will be enough to inoculate 4,875 people.
McLaughlin encouraged the public to take the vaccine as he believed it was the way forward for Cayman.
“We had determined I think quite some time ago that there is no safe way to reopen our border, creating these bubbles or any of these other things that have been proposed. The only way out for the world, quite frankly, is for enough people across the world to develop immunity and create the herd-immunity effect,” McLaughlin said.
On Thursday at 10am, McLaughlin said, he, together with the governor, will be getting inoculated live in the Hibiscus Conference Room at the Cayman Islands Hospital.
The Cayman Compass will stream the inoculations as well as the media briefing that is planned for Thursday at 2pm to announce details on the national vaccination programme.
McLaughlin said he received calls discouraging him from taking the vaccine, but “we are absolutely confident and I am absolutely confident that the vaccine is absolutely safe”.
This, he said, is why he agreed to be among the first to take it.
“What I think all of us should be aware of is that almost 2 million people have died as a result of COVID. So if we don’t immunise ourselves, eventually, Cayman is going to lose this bubble. We cannot hold on to this indefinitely; we cannot keep the borders closed indefinitely,” McLaughlin said.
He stressed that the vaccine is the way ahead.
“I am hopeful that by the end of March we would have been able to immunise enough of our residents that Cayman can resume an even greater sense of normalcy, to be able to travel much more freely, to allow people into our country without so much trepidation,” the premier added.
Unlike the UK, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee, said Tuesday, Cayman will be administering the second dose after 21 days as stipulated by Pfizer for maximum efficacy.
The UK has pushed back administering the second dose of the vaccine from three weeks after the first inoculation to 12 weeks to be able to give more people the initial shot.
While the vaccine is voluntary Roper encouraged residents to get inoculated as it will be key to Cayman receiving more supplies.
He described this first batch as a “trial run” as he thanked the UK for supplying the vaccines free of charge to all Overseas Territories. The total value of the vaccines is CI$226,554.28.
“If we can show this can be made to work and we can roll vaccines out successfully over the next few days, I am confident that we can get another batch of vaccines, either on the next flight or the one after that. This vaccine really is our way out of this pandemic,” Roper said.
Following the offloading of the vaccines Tuesday, Health Services Authority officials, together with a police escort, transported the cargo for immediate storage.
The HSA has purchased specialised freezers that are able to store the vaccines at the required -70°C to safely maintain their efficacy.
Those who are vaccinated will be given a stamped certificate recording the inoculation, according to a Government Information Services statement.
Health Minister Dwayne Seymour, who was on hand for the arrival of the vaccines, urged the public to do their research and be inoculated.
Though calling himself “very sceptical”, Seymour said, “I did my research and if you see me take it anyone can take it. I could tell you that this is safe and we have a unique opportunity. As was said before we are only 65,000 people… it’s about 42,000 people for us to get herd immunity”, adding he wants everyone to be encouraged to get vaccinated.
Seymour pointed to negative feedback about vaccines being spread in the community, saying the public should consider what this means for the country.
“There’s a lot of messages going around about reasons why not to take the vaccine. I can tell you we want to get back to some normalcy quite quickly. We need to encourage people, as what you will see us do on Thursday, [to] take the vaccine and let’s try to get as much people [vaccinated] as quickly as possible,” he said.
Vaccination important to getting more supplies
The health minister said despite the negative messages being spread in the community about the vaccines, there are those anxious to take the jab.
However, the minister stressed there is a process to follow and the World Health Organization has outlined the prioritised categories for people to get vaccinated.
“Please work with us and in trying to encourage as much people as possible to take this vaccine. The last thing that we would want is to receive 10,000 doses and after two months we still have 5,000 doses of vaccine. Hence the reason why we wouldn’t get any more from the UK because they wouldn’t see the need for us in getting additional supplies,” he added.
Lee, who will be also be among the first to take the vaccine Thursday, said in a GIS statement he understood the concerns of people regarding the swift pace of the development of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“But I want to reassure everyone this process has been as stringent as possible. The challenge of the pandemic has sped up the development process as did prompt, worldwide funding. The duration of the trials has not been shortened in any way, and normal safety measures have remained in place,” he said.
Lee, speaking at the airport Tuesday, said vaccinations will be done via walk-ins, but within the specified categories for the first stage.
The vaccines will initially be available to those aged 70 and over, certain patients in high-risk categories, healthcare workers and other high-risk frontline staff such as airport employees.
“It will be taken to those who are housebound and administered by a public health official, should members of the public desire this option. When there is better availability of the vaccines, the offering will extend to those aged 60 and above who are part of the first stage of vaccination,” the GIS statement said.
A total of 250 passengers were also on the BA flight.
About the vaccine:
The vaccine is the mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) type. which delivers genetic material to the person who is vaccinated to ‘trick’ the body into producing viral proteins, which then stimulate immune responses. Live virus is not used in this type of vaccine.
The vaccine is not currently recommended for children under 16, pregnant women or women who plan to be pregnant within the next three months.
People with a history of immediate onset anaphylaxis in reaction to a vaccine, medication or food should also not take the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the statement cautioned.