Dunkley says vaccine programme needs carrot as well as stick
Herd immunity against Covid-19 will not be reached for several months unless vaccine rates increase, the Opposition warned yesterday.
Michael Dunkley, the One Bermuda Alliance’ shadow health minister, said the Government needed a new approach to encourage more people to get the vaccine.
He applauded Government efforts to promote the vaccine – but said the public’s level of hesitation had been underestimated.
He suggested that, rather than penalise residents who have not been vaccinated, Government should do more to reward those who had got the jab.
Mr Dunkley said: “While lately they have upped the communications promoting the benefits of the vaccine and offered mobile clinics to be vaccinated, the uptake pace is still slower than we would like to see.
“It is now time for the Government to prudently take proactive and safe measures for those vaccinated – such as allowing businesses to open inside their establishment for those vaccinated.”
The Government until recently insisted that herd immunity – when 70 per cent of the population had full protection – could be reached by the end of this month.
But the latest figures showed just 40 per cent of people had been immunised wih two doses – four months after the drug became available.
Mr Dunkley said: "It is disappointing that the end of May date promised by the Government for achieving herd immunity, or community immunity, will not be reached.
“It is clear that the Government has underestimated vaccine hesitancy and the power of social media in the community.”
He also questioned Government plans to force non-vaccinated arrivals to quarantine at a hotel at their own expense rather than their homes.
Mr Dunkley said people were struggling financially because of the pandemic and that it was essential that the island returned to “a more normal way of life” as soon as possible.
Mr Dunkley added: “We have the tools to do this.
“We know how to deal with Covid – we have learned a lot through the past 15 months.
“Through the very strong support of the UK in providing the vaccine quickly to the island, we were put in a good position to start a vaccination process ahead of many other countries.
“Government should be commended for working with the UK to make this happen and then to launch the programme.
“However, as Bermuda enters another summer facing Covid, with another tourism season largely lost, and many restrictions still in place hurting our people, it is concerning that we have not only recently faced another dramatic spike in cases, and sadly deaths, but the community immunity will be hard to achieve by Cup Match unless the pace is picked up.”
Mr Dunkley said: “I urge everyone to consult their doctor and get vaccinated.
“I have, as has my family, and we did it for ourselves and the community and hoped that getting back to a more normal way of life, with restrictions less and less over time, could happen quickly.
“The vaccine provides hope for a better tomorrow.”
Mr Dunkley backed controversial plans for mandatory quarantines for non-vaccinated residents who returned from abroad.
But he said: “For those not vaccinated, quarantine at home could be enforced with strict penalties as it is not feasible for some who must travel to afford extra costs.
“I have had many people reach out to me on this subject with valid concerns and suggestions that the Government should listen to."