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Government upbeat on hitting herd immunity target

Strong demand: Government insists demand for the Covid-19 vaccine has not levelled off (File photograph)

Government has insisted that demand for the Pfizer vaccine was still high and that the island would have enough supplies to reach herd immunity.

The Royal Gazette sent a series of questions to Government’s department of communication earlier this week.

Officials were asked if demand for the vaccine had plateaued.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said: “Evidence from the past few weeks shows that the demand for the vaccine is strong and we are not yet at saturation.”

The spokeswoman admitted that vaccine stock levels – 4,722 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 190 of the Astra Zeneca vaccine on Tuesday – were insufficient to get Bermuda over the 70 per cent herd immunity line, even when topped up with another consignment from the UK scheduled to arrive next week.

But she added: “This is the initial supply. We have received assurances that we can get what we need subject to demand.”

The full list of questions The Royal Gazette asked, along with the answers that the spokeswoman provided is listed. In some cases, notes have been added to show where questions should have been amended or where other information has been provided.

Q:How much of the 2,500 doses of Pfizer vaccines available for first doses which needed to be used through June 8 were in fact used and how many had to be disposed of?

A: We used all of the approximately 2,500 Pfizer doses. Our wastage has averaged less than five per cent. All of these doses were used. In fact, we vaccinated more people than was originally planned and will need the new doses ordered to ensure that all who have had the first doses get their second dose.

Q:How many doses of both vaccines do we now have in stock?

A: We have approximately 4,722 Pfizer and 190 AstraZeneca. We are doing second doses of Pfizer and first doses of AstraZeneca. We are scheduled to receive additional Pfizer vaccines next week.

Q:Are you confident that the extra doses from the UK will be fully used or do you think that the vaccination rate has now plateaued?

A: Evidence from the past few weeks shows that the demand for the vaccine is strong, and we are not yet at saturation.

Q:We’re receiving another 4,680 doses of the vaccine from the UK next week – enough to immunise a further 2,340 people or 3.6 per cent of the population. That’s not going to be enough to reach herd immunity. Why did you order such a small number? Is it still the Government’s goal to reach herd immunity?

Q: This is the initial supply. We have received assurance that we can get what we need subject to demand.

Q: Quoting from an e-mail from the health minister during the court challenge to the delayed quarantine rules, Delroy Duncan said that positive Covid-19 cases which were of the Indian, Brazilian or South African variant were identified on the previous night’s BA flight. Can the minister confirm that she sent this e-mail?

A: The Minister provided the information to the Government’s legal counsel. Counsel never said it was the BA flight. Also, though he said the BA flight was full, he said the results were from traveller testing overnight. The most recent traveller cases are all from the US.

Q: Can the minister explain what led her to believe that a Brazil/India variant was on the island?

A: MDL carries out a preliminary genome analysis of the positive samples in Bermuda. The samples are sent to the Caribbean Public Health Agency for confirmation.

Q:Why was this released to the public in this way – don’t you think it could have caused alarm?

A: The information was relevant to the matter at hand (the hearing).

Q: Which variant was identified?

MDL’s PCR variant testing has identified this as the South African/Beta variant.

Q: Can the minister confirm that there have been no positive test results for the Brazilian or Indian strain?

A: All of the recent imported cases are the Beta variant – first identified in South Africa.

Q:Has the Indian strain – also known as the Delta strain – of the coronavirus been identified on the island?

A: No.

Q: Can the minister say why she has not commented publicly on this matter in the past week or so, if only to put people’s minds at ease?

A: The Ministry does not comment on individual cases and, with so few cases on island at present, it may have made it easy to identify persons.

Q:A cruise ship in the Caribbean had two immunised passengers test positive for Covid-19 last week. What contingency plan is in place should the same thing happen on the Viking Orion?

A: The plans for Viking Orion have extensive details on how this will be managed and this plan has been run through a desktop exercise with all the relevant stakeholders.

(Note: Lawrence Scott, the transport minister, told The Royal Gazette in a story published on Tuesday that Viking Orion’s outbreak policy said that “if three people out of 900 test positive, they will consider that an outbreak and they go into their outbreak protocols – that means the ship stays at sea”.)

Q: Last night it was reported that there had been a case of on-island transmission. How was it transmitted? Does this not reinforce the need for mandatory quarantine right now?

A: This was a contact of a known case who was already in quarantine.

Q: You are now talking about June 24 – another nine days – before the quarantine rules come into place yet we now know that there have been cases of the South African variant in the last two weeks. At the same time, you have reopened much of the economy, allowing much more mixing and much larger numbers. Isn’t this a big risk?

A: Public Health Emergency Powers Regulations are seeing significant relaxation only now, as of this coming Sunday, 20 June 2021.

Q:People are extremely irritated by the raft-up rule, especially when charter boats are able to take scores of people. Why was the raft up rule necessary? Are you concerned by the calls for a huge raft-up this weekend?

A: It is impossible to contact trace a raft up with multiple persons from multiple boats interacting. People are also irritated by curfew, but the Government is making decisions in the interest of safety. However, due to these restrictions and our vaccination rates, we can lift the curfew and end the restrictions for raft-ups.

Q: How many immunised travellers have tested positive for Covid-19 in their post-arrival tests? Is it really necessary to keep testing them on day 8 and 14 when this is a deterrent to visitors to travel to Bermuda?

A: The short answer is, yes – vaccinated people can and do test positive for Covid-19.

Q: The organisers of the recent trip by influencers for Revolve said: “We participated in an event that was not for recreational purposes, but rather a staged commercial event under the auspices, permission and knowledge of the Bermuda Tourism Authority and other relevant government departments with the view to promoting and marketing Bermuda. All Covid-19 protocol requirements were met.”

If this was the case, how was the alleged raft-up able to take place?

(Note: Although the spokeswoman did not provide an answer to this question, David Burt, the Premier, did address the issue at Tuesday’s Covid-19 update. He said: “I do not know whether the BTA person was on the various boats, on another boat but I do understand that there was an employee of the Bermuda Tourism Authority at that event. What is clear is there was a raft-up that took place. Permission was not given for boats to be tied together from the Minister of National Security, and the reason why permission cannot be given is because the Minister of National Security only has the power to approve large events and exemptions over the amount that is set in law. No Government official has the ability to approve something to take place which is unlawful. The only exemptions that the Minister can give is there to be persons and the suggestion that any person in Government gave and issued approval for something to take place that’s not lawful is not correct.”)

QUESTIONS NOT ANSWERED.

Q: Premier, at a business conference this week, you said “I don't think it is going to be a pretty winter. I still think we are going to have a challenge, and that's the reason why the Government is so firm that we need to have very, very strict border policies as we go forward to make sure that we can maintain our domestic economy.” Yet … you keep delaying the quarantine rules. Why are they being delayed again?

Q: What do you mean by “I don't think it is going to be a pretty winter” – why do you say that? What measures are you planning to make sure it is a pretty winter? Can the economy stand another Covid-19 wave?

Q: You put out a tweet yesterday that said: “Today we held our quarterly meeting with the Chamber of Commerce where we addressed matters such as growing the working population in #Bermuda, strengthening our economy & discussed how the Government can continue to support the work being done by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce as we continue to move beyond the pandemic.”

What are the plans to grow the working population and to strengthen the economy? You said the economic recovering planning had been delayed by the last Covid wave, now it appears to be over, what work is being done to plan for a recovery?

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Published June 18, 2021 at 7:50 am (Updated June 18, 2021 at 7:47 am)

Government upbeat on hitting herd immunity target

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