Hundreds turned out at the airport this morning to get inoculated against COVID-19 in a ramped-up vaccination drive.
Among those getting their vaccine jabs today were five government members: Deputy Premier Chris Saunders, Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan, Financial Services Minister André Ebanks, Deputy Speaker Katherine Ebanks-Wilks and Parliamentary Secretary Isaac Rankine.
According to Governor Martyn Roper, who dropped by the airport vaccination clinic to show his support, more than 350 people attended the clinic in the first hour. Numbers continued to pour into the airport throughout the day.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said he was very pleased with today’s turnout. “There are a lot of people here; there was a huge line waiting when we opened, which is really good news. Each day when we get more people vaccinated helps to encourage the remaining people to come forward.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people today who have had reservations, but have now become more comfortable because they met more people [who have been vaccinated] or they have more knowledge. What we really want to do is help people get over those reservations and help them get all the answers they need to come forward to get vaccinated.”
Saunders, speaking after getting his first jab, said the reason he had waited so long to get vaccinated was because, initially, as supplies of vaccines were arriving in batches, he wanted to ensure that the elderly and vulnerable got theirs first. And later, when early elections were called and the run-up to Election Day was just six weeks, he did not want any potential side-effects to impair his campaign efforts.
“I didn’t want to run the risk of losing one or two days of campaigning because it was a very short campaign period,” he said. He added that it had always been his intention to get vaccinated, and his wife and daughter had both received their shots earlier.
To help incentivise Cayman Islands residents to get vaccinated, the government has organised a prize draw, called the Vaccination Challenge. Everyone who gets their shots between today and 9 June will be entered in the draw, which, according to Bryan, already has more than 500 prizes donated by local businesses.
A tent erected outside the airport check-in area contained a large drop-box in which newly vaccinated people could put their entries, as music was played in the background. The tent also featured tables of snacks and drinks.
Bryan said the Vaccination Challenge was “just an extra incentive” to encourage residents to get their jabs.
“Some people were on the fence; they were not sure when they were going to do it,” he said. “A lot of people were going to leave it till the last minute is what I believe, so this is just a little encouragement to say, come and do it now, let’s make some fun out of it. It’s a different marketing strategy to get people out, because this is so important.”
Bryan said he hoped more than 1,000 prizes would be up for grabs before the end of the drive. In the meantime, he said, Burger King had agreed to give everyone who entered the draw a Whopper.
“I want to thank the business community for stepping up and doing their part,” he said.
He added that he felt “fine” following his own injection. “Based on the experience of others, I don’t think it’s going to be much of a big deal.”
Bryan said the results of the prize draw would be announced live on CIGTV on 9 June.
Premier on border reopening
Panton was vaccinated at the end of March but was among the elected government representatives who showed up to support their colleagues getting their shots at the airport today.
In an interview with media after his government members were vaccinated, Panton said Cayman would have to eventually open its borders, even if COVID still posed a risk.
“It’s not just a public health issue, it transitions into an economic crisis as well,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate in Cayman; we’ve had the reserves and ability to help our people. That is obviously unsustainable. We’ve had projections of the type of deficits down the road. The solution is to have our borders open and transition from a closed economy to an open economy.
“We’re not going to be out of the pandemic for some time to come. Even if we transition to more open borders, it may not be a perfect situation… There is nothing more difficult for the leadership of a country than to make a decision that might translate into people getting sick, or worse. That’s going to be a heavy burden but it’s one we must undertake for the benefit of our economy and for the benefit of our people who at this point are out of a job. I wish we have the reserves to continue the protections, continue the closed borders, continue to support our people until we get to a point where there is absolutely no risk, but that’s unfortunately a bit of a fantasy.”
He added that reopening the borders depended to a large extent on the COVID and vaccination situation of gateway countries to Cayman, but also on ensuring that as many people as possible on island are vaccinated against the virus.
Saunders, who is also the finance minister, speaking after getting his jab, also referred to the government’s projected deficit, which he said would be $157 million this year. “If there’s any doubt of what value tourism brings to our country, this is definitely it.”
He said workers in the tourism industry were anxious to get back to work, rather than surviving on a monthly stipend.
Panton urged everyone who is eligible for the inoculations to come forward. “It’s the only real solution for us,” he said.
“We have an immediate issue of not wasting our current supply of vaccines, which has an expiration date of 30 June,” he said. “The key for us is to get that into people’s arms. It’s not a case that we’re not going to get more – we just can’t waste it.”
He said the PACT government believed vaccinating 70% of Cayman’s entire population, estimated to be about 65,000, was “achievable”, but it was a target it was aiming to overshoot. If Cayman gets emergency permission to vaccinate those aged 12-15, then surpassing the 70% target was likely, he said.
Canada last week approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use among 12- to 15-year-olds. The US Food and Drug Administration had also been expected to announce its approval for use of the vaccine among that age group last week, but that is now expected to occur next week. Cayman, however, must wait for permission from the UK authorities before administering the vaccine to that younger age group.