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Covid-19: Government admits some non-residents got vaccine

A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London .(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

A “small” number of non-residents were able to receive the free Covid-19 vaccine because they weren’t required to prove they lived in Bermuda, the Government admitted.

Health minister Kim Wilson insisted at a press conference on Tuesday that the vaccine was “not available to non-residents, as we seek to achieve herd immunity in Bermuda, and only residents can make this happen”.

But the Ministry of Health said on Thursday in response to questions from The Royal Gazette, that it did not initially check those receiving the jab were actually living on the island and had now introduced a better system.

A spokeswoman said: “We believe that the non-residents who obtained appointments were small in number and were part of the early rush in that first week.

“We have already taken steps to put safeguards in place and will ensure that the system is even more robust.”

She said: “Currently, we state that we accept a form of photo ID and we provide examples: driver’s licence; passport; voter registration ID, provided by Bermuda’s Parliamentary Registrar; and the government-issued photo ID for seniors.

“This has allowed us to confirm a person’s identity. However, it was not used to verify that someone is a resident.

“We now specify that we require a photo ID that confirms their residency e.g. a Bermuda driving licence.

“If a resident does not have a Bermuda-issued ID, they can provide another form of proof of residency.”

She did not respond to a question about how a Bermuda driving licence proved a person currently lived here.

The spokeswoman also failed to answer when the ID protocol changed or how the Government defined a current resident.

The Royal Gazette asked if the definition included: people who live here for part of the year; those here for a 90-day visa-free stay; students whose parents live here and who are home from college; Bermudians who live elsewhere but are visiting home; and people living here in the digital nomad/work from Bermuda scheme.

The vaccine programme began on January 11 with medics administering the injections at a centre at Prospect and another at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

As of last Saturday (January 23), 2,932 people had received the jab.

One person who received it at Prospect on Wednesday (January 27) said he was asked to show a government-issued ID such as a passport or driving licence and opted to show the latter.

He said there was no further check to ensure he was a current resident.

Those submitting public access to information requests have to prove they live in Bermuda.

Several government departments and public authorities don’t accept passports and driving licences as proof of current residence in that situation and require recent bills or bank statements.

Ms Wilson was asked at the press conference who could get the vaccine.

She said: “All residents are eligible to get the vaccination … When you present yourself you have to provide some kind of ID.”

The vaccine was being given first to residents who fall into priority groups 1A (those 80+, rest and long-term care residents, frontline healthcare and essential workers) and 1B (those 65+ and the extremely vulnerable).

With the arrival of a new shipment of vaccines from the UK today, government has said it is opening up registration to group 2 (those 50+ and those with underlying conditions).

A 73-year-old woman questioned earlier this week why she and others she’d spoken to in her age group had yet to get the vaccine

The resident, who asked not to be named, said: “Fortunately, I’m relatively healthy but with a heart condition.

“I registered online with my husband on the very first day. We completed an additional form at Prospect and was told I would hear within 24 hours – that was on Friday and I [have heard] nothing.”

She added: “I do know healthy 60-year-olds, and, in one case, a healthy 55-year-old, who’ve been vaccinated.

“We all feel the health department have done a great job overall but this stage seems a bit disorganised.”

The health ministry spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that we are vaccinating members of both 1A and 1B at this time.

“Our prioritisation of patients is now automated using a database, to ensure that all members of these groups who register for a vaccine will be scheduled.

“Because our system weighs several factors – age, vulnerability, inclusion in an essential group – to determine priority and scheduling, efforts are happening simultaneously.

“Some patients waiting for appointments may be scheduled before someone older or younger.

“Members of groups 1A and 1B, however, should be assured that we are working hard to make sure they are scheduled for an appointment on an expedited basis.”

Ms Wilson said on Wednesday that some people in Phase 1A who registered between January 11 and 13 had not yet received an appointment for their vaccine.

They were urged to e-mail vaccine@gov.bm or call the Hotline at 444 2498 (option #2), so they could get an appointment as soon as possible.

Ms Wilson added that the ministry would be able to address their requests via e-mail more promptly than by phone.

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Published January 30, 2021 at 8:18 am (Updated January 30, 2021 at 8:18 am)

Covid-19: Government admits some non-residents got vaccine

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