Premier Wayne Panton said his government is not inclined to introduce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for Caymanians and permanent residents.
“I would rather encourage them first,” said Panton while speaking on Rooster 101’s Cayman Crosstalk earlier today, 1 June.
Panton was replying to a viewer-submitted question, asking whether he would make the COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for persons receiving the government-issued tourism stipend.
“That’s kind of the same thing as saying that we make vaccines mandatory for everybody,” said Panton. “I think personally we will end up in a position where, just like how when you have to do a work permit, you have to do a health test.”
He added, “There is nothing wrong with saying that in order for you to work in Cayman you have to be vaccinated… We will probably make vaccinations mandatory for renewals of work permits, [and] issues of new work permits.”
The premier’s comments come one day after Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan made a similar announcement which included a possible reduction in the quarantine period to five days.
No timeline has been given for when work-permit holders will be required to be vaccinated. Some legal experts have already weighted in on the potential that mandatory vaccines could be legal.
Herd immunity thresholds scrapped due to outdated numbers
The previous administration stated they were aiming for a 70% to 80% population inoculation threshold before considering reopening Cayman’s borders.
As of today, 36,885 people were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That number is believed to represent 57% of the total population. However, Panton said this data may not be accurate, as it is a reflection of Cayman’s 2010 population.
“The advice is that there isn’t any specific number that is going to guarantee herd immunity… the truth is we haven’t actually set our minimum,” said Panton. He added that previous media reports established 70% as a minimum target, based on comments he made during an earlier press conference.
A full Cayman-wide census is expected to begin in the third quarter of 2021, and an initial population total is expected by January 2022. Until then, Panton said the Economics and Statistics Office has been tasked with finding the most accurate number that reflects Cayman’s current population total.
“We have the [ESO] doing some work around this number of 65,000 to try and get that nailed down… so we really have a better idea of how much vaccine penetration [we have].” said Panton.
Vaccines for teens to be made available
Cayman’s pre-teen and adolescent population could be the next group to receive the COVID-19 vaccines.
During his appearance on Crosstalk, Panton said his government was in the process of trying to make the vaccines readily available to youth between the ages of 12 and 15 years old, now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as well as the Center for Disease Control and a host of European Union authorities.
“We have been waiting on Public Health England to give us an indication on [if] we can go ahead and utilise it,” said Panton. “Last week I was told that wasn’t likely, this week there is an indication that it may be imminent. Whether that happens or not, we can make a decision as to whether to go ahead with it.”
In the event the vaccines are administered to young people without having being cleared by Public Health England, Panton said the government would be willing to accept liability for those who suffer negative side effects.
“The truth is we are doing that anyway… We have had one or two people who have had some side effects and we have dealt with that and we have helped them out.”
“So, I think we are probably going to move ahead with the 12-to-15 group fairly soon,” he stated.
COVID-19 will return with the eventual reopening
“When we reopen, the risk is going to go up. It is not an ‘if’, it is a definite that we are going to end up with COVID reestablished in the community to some extent… [it] all depends on how well we’re vaccinated. If we’re vaccinated, we shouldn’t have a problem,” Panton said.
Although no date has been given for the official reopening of Cayman’s borders, the premier did say it was a goal he and his Cabinet were working towards.
“Over the last few weeks we have been developing a reopening plan, not that it is imminent, but we need to establish exactly what it will look like,” said Panton.
He said he wants to ensure that all residents have been given ample time to understand the changes.
“We have been really lucky we have been living in a bubble, we can hug each other; that may change,” he said.
Panton said that some potential protocols that could be reintroduced when the borders are reopened include the wearing of masks and social distancing indoors.
Another component his administration is weighing is the prevalence of COVID-19 in Cayman’s “gateway countries”.
“Before we let people in from certain places, we want to see prevalence of COVID go quite a way down,” said Panton. “We have seen many of those gateway countries are now in the range of satisfying those conditions.”
Panton said a better indication of the government’s plans and a timeline to reopening will be revealed in the coming weeks.