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Bermuda has fallen short

Bermuda got off to a flying start with the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine in January. Five months later, the island has fallen short of herd immunity.

It’s official. Bermuda has failed to achieve herd immunity from Covid-19.

On Tuesday, Bermuda administered the final first doses of its stock of the Covid-19 vaccine to recipients. As of Friday, 61 per cent of people had had at least one dose while a further 53 per cent had had both doses and can therefore be considered to be immunised.

Over the weekend and through Monday, a further 1,150 doses, equivalent to about 1.7 per cent of the population, were delivered but it is not yet known how many were first doses and how many were second. The Royal Gazette has asked for these figures and may yet get them.

Nonetheless, even if all of those vaccines were first doses, it would not be enough to get Bermuda to the magical 70 per cent figure, which has been posited as the number needed for herd immunity.

With no more vaccines requested from Britain, and an unknown number to be delivered on an unknown date from the Covax facility, this means Bermuda will immunise no more people in the coming weeks than the 62 or possibly 63 per cent who have had at least one shot.

Had Britain not approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds on Friday, that number would be even lower.

It would be easy to brush this off, to maintain that 62 or 63 per cent is pretty good and that on a per-capita basis Bermuda remains high on the list of immunised countries, at least for now.

It would be possible to argue that with Bermuda’s rigorous testing regime and the 14-day quarantine limit for non-immunised travellers looming, the island is almost as safe as it would be had the 70 per cent target been reached.

If the 2,400 or so people are included who have been infected with the virus — and therefore carry some antibodies — it could be said that Bermuda is even closer to that number.

But it would be disingenuous and irresponsible to accept these lines of reasoning.

Bermuda remains at high risk of experiencing a fourth wave, while almost four out of ten people remain non-immunised.

No one knows how long natural antibodies will last. Bermuda’s testing regimen is good, and this newspaper supports the 14 day supervised mandatory quarantine if only for its deterrent effect, but experience has shown that it only takes one person to spread the virus, and the risk is greater if it turns out to be a new variant that is more resistant to natural or vaccine antibodies.

That is why it was so important to reduce the risk to as great an extent as possible. The less likely it is that any variant of the coronavirus can be spread, the safer everyone will be.

It can be argued that 80 per cent immunity, not 70 per cent, is the number Bermuda should have been striving for. That would mean that virtually every adult was immunised.

Perhaps 80 per cent was too ambitious. It seems clear that everyone in Bermuda who wanted the vaccine has probably had it. There will be some people who decided to wait until they had travel plans to get vaccinated and they will have figuratively and perhaps literally missed the boat now.

This newspaper and other organisations used all the tools of persuasion and incentive to persuade people to get immunised. Companies and individuals dug into their own pockets to make it happen. But it was not enough.

The Government made vaccines readily available — at a good deal of expense — and used the close-to-home programme to make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated.

And yet it may well share a nagging feeling that more could have been done to persuade the vaccine-hesitant and the doubters to get the jab for the sake of the community.

Given the scale of the effect of the pandemic on the whole community, the Government could have been expected to throw everything it had at the business of persuading people to get immunised. Few would dispute that the Progressive Labour Party, which organised the October 2020 General Election landslide, would persuade many if it put its formidable campaigning skills to work.

Certainly some well-known people were enlisted to feature in public service notices, but an army of influencers could have been encouraged to put its goodwill to work in an effort to save lives. And public officials could have been more assertive in persuading people to get the shot.

If Bermuda had done that, it might well have reached the target of 70 per cent immunity, as other British Overseas Territories have.

Instead, Bermuda has fallen short, and even gave most of the AstraZeneca vaccine away. That may have been a humanitarian gesture, but it also means that some Bermudians, perhaps students returning from countries where the vaccine is not yet available to all, will go without. That makes little sense.

And so Bermuda finds itself stuck. It is close to herd immunity, but will not get there unless more vaccines are imported. As a result, the coming months will be full of risk. The island is one infection of the delta variant away from disaster.

Because substantially more people are vaccinated than there were in March or April, the risk may well be less. But the risk remains. If there is another spike, the blame lies with us.

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Published June 13, 2021 at 9:07 am (Updated June 13, 2021 at 9:07 am)

Bermuda has fallen short

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