Premier Wayne Panton says the US federal government’s unwillingness to create a country-wide verifiable COVID vaccination system is continuing to be a barrier to allowing people vaccinated there to avail of Cayman’s five-day quarantine period.
Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon on Thursday, 8 July, at which he announced a plan for reopening Cayman’s borders, Panton said he had received many phone calls from mothers of Caymanian children who have been vaccinated in the US, asking why their kids had to be in quarantine for 10 days instead of five.
He said he was “thoroughly sympathetic” to their arguments, “but it is a question of trying to maintain standards that make sense, and apply them equally for everyone”. He added, “We did not come up with the verifiable vaccination concept to disadvantage anybody who was vaccinated in the US.”
Currently, Customs and Border Control officers at the airport can only securely verify vaccination certificates issued here in Cayman by the Health Services Authority or by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service.
Panton said that when checks on vaccination certificates began several weeks ago, the Cayman Islands government had hoped that the US vaccination certificate issue would be “quickly resolved”.
“I am still being advised that that is going to happen,” he said, adding that currently QR codes for vaccination certificates from two US states – California and Louisiana – can be read by authorities here.
He said there was also a move within the private sector in the US, between technology companies and businesses engaged in administering the vaccines, to create electronically verifiable vaccination documentation, which may be soon available and which Cayman would be able to access.
The premier described the US approach to verifiable vaccination data as “very fragmented”, stating that the federal government had said it was not its responsibility.
Back in April, US White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed to reporters that there would be no “federal vaccinations database” or a “federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential”.
She said, “The government is not now, nor will be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” she said. “Our interest is very simple from the federal government, which is Americans’ privacy and rights should be protected, and so that these systems are not used against people unfairly.”
Panton pointed out that the approach to digital vaccination certificates varies from state to state in the US, usually along partisan lines. “The more Democratic states are taking the approach of saying, ‘Yes, we are creating a verification system … the Republican-led states are saying, ‘No, we are not, and you can’t even ask.’”
He said Florida, Cayman’s main gateway for incoming travellers from the US and the departure point for the majority of cruise ships that visit here, was one of the Republican-led states that was taking the latter approach.
“It’s a problem,” Panton said.
However, he said Cayman was not willing to dial back on its requirement for securely verifiable vaccination documentation, “because of fear that it will be taken advantage of”.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee has previously said that concern over the possible use of fake vaccination certificates was the main reason for Cayman implementing an electronic verification requirement for people availing of the five-day quarantine period.
Currently, only people with certificates that can be securely verified – from Cayman’s HSA or the UK’s National Health Service – can use the five-day quarantine. People with vaccination certs from other countries or jurisdictions need to quarantine for 10 days, while unvaccinated arrivals are required to isolate for 14 days.
Panton said Thursday, “We only need a few cases to get by to have a significant increase in infections and we have a BVI situation.”
The British Virgin Islands re-imposed lockdown restrictionsearlier this week after a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Panton acknowledged that as Cayman slowly reopens its borders, the risk of community transmission would grow, but that Cayman could protect itself against people getting very sick, or needing hospitalisation, or dying, by ensuring that the vast majority of its population is vaccinated. Approximately 64% of the total estimated population of 71,100 is currently fully vaccinated.
The premier also addressed the question of when vaccination certificates issued in Cayman would be electronically verifiable for people from here travelling overseas, stating that this was “imminent”.
“We are going to be able to provide our own app-based QR code so we can verify to other countries that our people have been vaccinated,” he said.