From the effectiveness of vaccines, the rate of spread of the virus and the threshold for ‘herd immunity’, a wealth of data is emerging on COVID in Cayman and across the globe.
We look at what the statistics are telling us about the state of the fight against the pandemic…
Cayman is inching towards its vaccination target
Cayman is creeping towards its target of vaccinating more than 70% of the adult population. The daily vaccination rate dropped significantly in the past few weeks, but was buoyed from 8 May by a campaign which sought to encourage people to get the jab.
A total of 38,986 people have had at least one dose. Based on government’s population estimate of 65,000, around 2,600 more people would need to be vaccinated to hit the target.
Younger people need to roll up their sleeves
Cayman has already made great strides in protecting the most vulnerable, with more than 90 percent of the over-60s vaccinated.
Younger people lag behind, with less than 50% of the under-40s vaccinated. That’s partly a consequence of the roll-out schedule for the immunisation programme, which prioritised older people first but also speaks to a greater degree of vaccine reluctance among age groups who feel less threatened by the virus.
Why scientists advise young people to get vaccinated
Data from Brazil shows new variants are impacting younger people at a much greater rate. At the end of April, more than 50% of people in intensive care units with COVID-19 in the South American country were aged under 40.
Additionally scientists advise that the higher percentage of people that can get vaccinated, the greater the chances of achieving herd immunity.
What is the threshold for herd immunity?
Herd immunity happens when enough of the population is vaccinated or has become immune to the virus to prevent it from spreading. According to the World Health Organization, a substantial percentage of the population (estimates range between 70 and 90% though no figure has yet been established) would need to be vaccinated for that kind of community-wide immunity to be achieved.
One of the advantages of herd immunity, says the WHO, is that it reduced the chain of transmission and therefore serves to protect those in the community who cannot be vaccinated (due to health conditions or allergic reactions).
It is not clear that herd immunity is a realistic goal for every community but the concept that the more people vaccinated, the less chance the virus has to spread applies.
Can you still carry and transmit the virus after vaccination?
The added complication is that the vaccine does not fully prevent people from getting and transmitting the virus.
The data on this is still emerging but initial investigations seem to show that it drastically reduces the chances of asymptomatic transmission.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, “Although COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping you from getting sick, scientists are still learning how well vaccines prevent you from spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 to others, even if you do not have symptoms.
“Early data show the vaccines do help keep people with no symptoms from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated.”
A study by Johns Hopkins University on 4,000 healthcare first responders showed those who were vaccinated were 90% less likely to be infected.
Does the vaccine really work?
Data from Bermuda, England and the US, shows very clearly that vaccines work. Research by Public Health England published this week found that people who had a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine had around 80% lower risk of death than those who were not immunised.
The most relevant comparison for Cayman perhaps comes from Bermuda, which had reopened its borders and was midway through a vaccination programme, when it was hit by a new wave of COVID-19 infections.
Bermuda has a similar size population to Cayman and is using the same Pfizer BioTech vaccination. The latest wave of the virus has almost exclusively impacted the unvaccinated population.
Is there reviewed data to back this up?
The most comprehensive scientific study comes from Israel, where more than 5 million people have been fully vaccinated with the same PfizerBioNTech vaccine Cayman is using.
Comprehensive peer-reviewed research using data from the country, published in medical journal the Lancet, found vaccination provides more than 95 percent protection from infection, hospitalisation, severe illness, and death.
This is backed up by the COVID case curve in Israel since the vaccination program began.
Are there exceptions?
A recent surge in COVID cases in the Seychelles, which has a high vaccination rate using the Sinopharm and Covishield vaccines, has caused some concern. The World Health Organization said on 11 May it was reviewing coronavirus data from Seychelles after the health ministry said more than a third of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week had been fully vaccinated.
According to news reports, both the ministry and the WHO stressed that the majority of those who tested positive had not been vaccinated or had only received one dose, that no-one who had died had been fully vaccinated and that nearly all of those needing treatment for severe or critical cases were unvaccinated.
What’s the world picture?
After a sharp rise in cases and deaths early this year, fuelled by uncontrolled outbreaks in Brazil and India, the worldwide curve of COVID infections is starting to flatten once more. The rolling 7-day average for global cases peaked at just over 860,000 last month but was down to just under 550,000 this week.
The rate at which the virus is spreading in India remains a concern. The WHO said this week that global cases had plateaued, albeit at an “unacceptably high” level.
What about the US?
The US is critical for Cayman because that is our main source of business and tourist visitors.
The rates of infection and death have rapidly declined in line with the steady increase in vaccination.
Almost 50% of Americans have now received at least one dose of the vaccine. Cases of infection have been falling since the turn of the year.
What are other Caribbean territories doing?
Turks and Caicos and Bermuda have been open to tourists for some time, without quarantine and currently don’t require vaccination. Bermuda has moderated that stance in the midst of a fresh outbreak and will require quarantine for unvaccinated travelers from next month.
From this weekend, the British Virgin Islands will reduce its quarantine requirement to one day for vaccinated travellers. There is a four day quarantine period and testing required for other travellers.
TCI, in particular, has reported strong tourism numbers, but the flip-side for those countries is a higher death rate. BVI and Cayman have experienced fewer cases and far fewer deaths. Anguilla and Montserrat, which are much smaller than the other territories and also require quarantine for up to 14 days, have largely escaped the worst consequences of the pandemic.
Why didn’t Cayman make the travel green list for the UK?
It is unclear why Cayman wouldn’t be on the UK’s travel green list.
With no community transmission and fewer cases, fewer deaths and a higher vaccination rate than most of the countries that are on the list, there seems little logic in the exclusion.
It appears likely that the British government analysed the region as a whole and grouped Cayman together with other islands in the amber designation.
The greatest impact of this decision right now is that it means Cayman Islands residents travelling to the UK are required to quarantine, which has caused controversy, given the relative COVID status of the two countries.