COVID-19 is fast becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, Premier Wayne Panton said Wednesday as he urged everyone that had yet to be immunised to get the jab.
Panton spoke out against a “wave of misinformation, selfish behaviour and apathy” surrounding the vaccine which he said was placing the country at risk.
Sticking to his guns over government’s reopening plan, which is contingent on hitting a target of vaccinating 80% of the population, he said he was not prepared to take chances with people’s health.
Speaking directly to those who are eligible to get the shot but have not yet been immunised, he said, “I am once again asking you to roll up your sleeve. It’s not just about you. It’s about our community and the interests of our country.”
Opening too soon risks harming the economy as well as the health of the most vulnerable, including those who cannot yet be vaccinated, Panton said in an address to Parliament.
Highlighting the situation in the British Virgin Islands – a sister Overseas Territory that over the past few weeks has seen 22 deaths and more than 30 hospitalisations as COVID cases rocketed from zero to more than 2,000 – he said the virus was almost exclusively impacting those who had not been vaccinated.
Only one person who had the vaccine needed hospital treatment so far in the BVI outbreak, Panton said. “The world over it is clear that this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” he added.
Addressing criticism that government’s reopening plan is too cautious, Panton highlighted the measures taken in BVI, including allowing vaccinated travellers to enter the country with few restrictions and reducing quarantine to seven days for those that had not been immunised. He said those steps had not worked and the island is now facing new restrictions.
“I do not want our country to suffer the loss of people we know and love, then have to go back to lockdowns, curfews and harsh restrictions,” he added.
He also highlighted the possible consequences of ‘Freedom Day’ in the UK, which lifted all COVID restrictions this week, amid the condemnation of many scientists who fear a new outbreak.
“Let us see just how high the infection rates soar now that people have been given the freedom to be irresponsible,” he added.
Panton acknowledged Cayman may have to live with some level of COVID-19 in the community at some point.
And he hinted that vaccination passports could be among the measures used to keep people safe if the virus returns to these shores.
Citing a policy in France that requires a health pass to enter venues such as cinemas, bars, restaurants and public transportation, he said government would consider such measures if it had to.
“If we do not, collectively, do the right thing and get vaccinated I can assure you that this government will be prepared to take all of the measures we need to – some may call them draconian – to protect every single living soul in these islands.”
To those that have labelled the COVID-19 vaccines – now administered in full to more than a billion people, or nearly 15% of the world’s population – as an experiment, he said the “real experiment” was being conducted by countries that had attempted to open their borders too soon without protecting the most vulnerable.
“We estimate our population to be 71,106 and we are taking Public Health England’s advice to get 80% of our population vaccinated,” he added.
“So far only 66% of our population has had the two-dose course of the vaccine. That is to be celebrated, but at the same time we know it’s not sufficient. We can and must do better.”
Panton acknowledged that opening Cayman’s borders was an economic necessity. But with COVID-19 likely to be a part of the global picture for some time, he said government would “exercise wisdom” and “be guided by the science” as it looked to unlock safely.
He urged the Opposition, which has proposed a 1 Sept. reopening, to back his government’s plans and “avoid the slippery slope of making political hay with a rapidly evolving public health issue”.