The new Cayman Islands government is launching a fresh COVID-19 vaccination drive, which includes offering incentives and prizes such as laptops, phones and petrol vouchers, to try to convince those reluctant to be inoculated to come forward for their shots.
The PACT government announced the ramped-up efforts on Wednesday when it held its first press briefing since being elected to office last month.
Premier Wayne Panton said he had an “urgent message” to remind people that Cayman’s stock of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are due to expire at the end of June. He said 14,000 doses remain, and he implored anyone over 16 who has not yet been vaccinated to attend the Owen Roberts International Airport vaccine clinic to get their shot.
He said the new government’s position “for the moment” regarding the reopening of borders, based on the vaccination rate, is the same as that set out by the Progressives government.
The Progressives had stated that borders could be reopened safely once 70-80% rate of the population had been vaccinated.
Panton said reaching 80% would be “difficult” and that a 70% target was “more doable”.
He appealed to people to take the vaccine “for the greater good”.
The new tourism and transport minister, Kenneth Bryan, said he would be receiving his first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Saturday at the airport clinic. He invited members of the public to join him and his government colleagues, from 10am, at the airport, and said a prize draw would be held for people who come forward to get vaccinated.
He also invited businesses to donate prizes for the drive “in an effort to sweeten the deal” for those who are unsure about taking the vaccine, adding that he hoped there would be a “massive response” so that Cayman could reach the 80% target.
Panton said four of his government members had not yet been vaccinated, as they had been concerned about having side-effects while running their election campaigns, but that they would all be in attendance at Saturday’s vaccination drive. He added that he had already been fully vaccinated and only suffered mild side-effects.
Asked if the government was considering implementing mandatory vaccines from work-permit holders, like Turks and Caicos has done, Panton responded that it was not something his administration was “actively going to consider” at this time.
Dr. John Lee, chief medical officer, said 50% of Cayman’s entire population had received their full course of vaccines as of Wednesday. He added there appeared to be an uptick in recent days in the number of people being inoculated.
Lee said encouraging news had been received from Canada which has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children over the age of 12, but said Cayman would need to get permission from the UK before it could be offered those aged between 12 and 16.
He said he hoped that Cayman would “overshoot” its vaccination target, as the more people are vaccinated, the safer the islands’ population will be once borders reopen.
Governor Martyn Roper echoed Panton’s sentiments and urged people to get vaccinated. He said the UK government was committed to supplying Cayman with more vaccines, “including adapted doses to tackle new strains of COVID and bolster vaccines in the autumn if needed”, but he added that it would be “difficult” to ask the UK for more vaccines if the local population had not used up the doses it already had.
He said that with there were “desperate situations” due a lack of vaccines in various places around the world. “I think there would be significant outrage and even distress if it became known that we had not used the vaccines that we have been sent,” he said.
Speaking for the first time as health minister, Sabrina Turner pointed out that vaccines are becoming scarce in certain places around the world, such as India, and she begged the Cayman population not to become complacent about the availability of vaccinations.
She said a number of measures were being considered by the new government in relation to COVID-19 restrictions, including the possible removal of the requirement for a PCR test taken 72 hours before entering Cayman for travellers who have completed their vaccination course no less than two weeks before arrival.
Bryan announced at the briefing that the government would continue to pay a monthly $1,500 stipend to 3,371 tourism-industry employees who have been out of work since the borders closed. Bryan said he was aware that for many of these individuals, the stipend was their only financial means.
He did not specify how long the stipends would continue, but he said he wanted to quell rumours that they were about to be scrapped.
The premier said his government planned to hold regular press briefings going forward.
Companies that want to donate to the vaccine drive can email [email protected].