Health Minister Sabrina Turner is appealing for more young Caymanians to roll up their sleeves for the COVID jab, as Cayman’s vaccination numbers have dipped over the last few days.
Turner, speaking on Cayman Compass’ weekly talk show ‘The Resh Hour’, expressed concern over the drop in vaccinations which, as of 30 June, stood at 48,418 people (68% of an estimated population of 71,100) having at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and approximately 63% completing the two-dose course.
“Our Caymanian people, we need to get ourselves vaccinated,” she said.
The minister stressed the importance of hitting the goal of getting 80% of the population vaccinated, so that Cayman can safely look towards a phased reopening, saying that a community effort is needed to reach the target.
“We [government] are all about safety, but we realise as well that people are hurting. The industries are hurting. People are facing foreclosures, the repossession of cars, and this is not sustainable. We know at some point in time, we are going to have to face the music and what we are pushing right now, a part of the plan, is to increase the uptake – and I can’t stress that [more] – of getting our vaccinations up,” she said.
Vaccination push for young people
Turner, in her first sit-down interview since taking office in April, said the quicker Cayman gets people fully vaccinated “the [closer] we are to realistically getting phased-in approaches” for a reopening.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee, also speaking on the show, shared the minister’s concern.
He said it may take another seven or more weeks to hit that 80% target.
“There is unquestionably a slowdown in the uptake of the vaccine. We really want to encourage people to come forward because unless we get to that safety number, we won’t have ourselves fully protected.
“And I think it is probably fair to say that if we cannot push the vaccine numbers any higher then there is no point staying there, we will need to still progress on our other fronts,” Lee said, as he hinted that a cut-off mark could be set at some point, to move to unlocking borders without reaching the 80% target.
Vaccination targets and replenished supplies
Cayman’s borders have been closed to commercial travel since March 2020.
Lee said the jurisdiction’s current vaccine supplies stand at around 4,500 doses.
A new shipment of more than 10,000 doses is
set to arrive on 14 July, the Governor’s Office has confirmed.
However, Lee said the issue is not really the question of availability as “we’re fairly good on that front”.
“It’s really a question of let’s use it up and get this opportunity so that we can move forward with our reopening,” he said.
Lee said Cayman has been able to make headway with vaccinations in the older age groups; however, those in the younger age brackets were lagging behind.
Currently, the percentage of young people aged between 12 and 18 who have received at least one vaccination stands at 32%, and for those between 18 and 30, the rate is 68%.
He said the 12-18 group will catch up, as approvals for that age bracket were only recently granted.
Turner expressed hope that the other groups will also follow suit.
“I can see in the coming weeks… days, hopefully, that we’ll see an uptake in all of the age groups, as we get closer into the realities of the reopening of some sort,” she said, adding that, as Lee previously pointed out, reopening means accepting there will be the introduction of COVID back into the community.
Should this happen, she said, there will be a return to mandatory mask wearing and a reduction in the number of people permitted to gather.
“We may have to go backwards before we come forward,” she said.
Turner said government’s border-reopening plan remains a “work in progress” and decisions on mandatory vaccinations for work-permit holders have not been finalised.
“It’s phased, step-by-step. This is nothing that we can be knee-jerking because people are first. Safety is the priority of everyone,” she said.
Verification of US vaccines work in progress
Cayman has reduced the quarantine period for fully vaccinated individuals from 10 days to five; however, this change has only been applied to vaccinations administered either by the Health Services Authority or UK’s National Health Service.
This has prompted pushback from those who have been vaccinated in the US and Canada.
Lee addressed those concerns, saying it is not a country-specific issue, but a matter of securely verifying the vaccination certificates.
“It’s a system-based issue and when we’re able to, with confidence, we can, not only read the QR code, but verify that that has been digitally signed by the right sort of authority; at that point we would welcome people with other systems,” he said.
He explained at this time local border and health officials can access and verify vaccinations recorded in the HSA’s patient portal and the NHS app, but it is more complex for US travellers, given the varied sources offering vaccinations there.
Lee and Turner pointed out there is no standardised system for US vaccine certificates, but that does not mean they will wait for a countrywide system before accepting them.
“It just needs to be a system that we can [digitally] read,” Lee said.
In the US, he said, there are a number of common systems being adopted, so it’s relatively easy to adjust local systems to be able to read the different codes.
“When we get to the point where we can read any sort of QR code, or at least the few that we know that are there, we’ll be saying, ‘Please come forward and bring that QR code to us.’ We’re not quite there yet, but we’re not talking about weeks or months away and we’re not talking about a country-based system. It’s whether we have the right systems in order to be able to do it,” he said.