January 2021: Landmark moment in Covid-19 fight as vaccinations begin
It was a landmark moment for Bermuda after the island had endured ten months of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The island’s first batch of 9,750 doses of the vaccine against the coronavirus touched down from the UK just eight days into the new year.
Rena Lalgie, the Governor, was at the airport to greet the British Airways flight with Kim Wilson, the health minister.
Health officials said the Pfizer vaccine was the island’s best weapon against a new virus that had already cost ten lives and crippled much of the economy.
The arrival of the jab came during a winter surge of cases, with the eleventh and twelfth deaths linked to the virus marked on January 5 and 7.
The new vaccine was taken to a secret location, and stored in a hi-tech freezer on loan from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.
The first jabs went to the island’s healthcare workers and other essential staff at high risk from Covid-19.
David Burt, the Premier, joined by Ms Wilson and Cole Simons, the Leader of the Opposition, led from the front and were among the first in the queue when the vaccinations started days later.
The new mRNA shots faced scepticism after their creation and acceptance inside a year of a new virus being identified.
The Government vowed to keep the decision to get the vaccination or not voluntary – and it remained that way throughout 2021.
But the interest was clear from a pandemic-weary population and the Government’s vaccination hotline was jammed with calls.
Mr Burt, who made no secret of his dislike of needles, called on Black Bermudians in particular to take the plunge.
He admitted there was a legacy of mistrust of the medical establishment created by the island’s history of racism.
But he announced at the island’s first vaccine centre at Prospect in Devonshire: “I am taking this vaccine today because I trust the science and the numerous regulatory authorities around the world that have studied it and assured us all that it is safe.”
But the racial statistics bore out Mr Burt’s warning of the imbalance in vaccine acceptance after two weeks of vaccinations.
The figures showed 63 per cent of people who had signed up for the shots were White and 14 per cent were Black.
Mr Burt said: “We are going to be real and honest – I think that’s the communication that the public want and deserve from their leaders and we’re going to continue on that path.”
Carika Weldon, the Government’s science adviser, also rolled up her arm for her first dose, and explained later at one of the regular Covid-19 updates how the shot worked.
She added, although it was new, it was created using research that dated back decades.
Bermudians aged over 80 were also among the first to get the two-shot vaccination.
But, even as a medical victory seemed within reach, it was clear the grim reality of persistent coronavirus restrictions would continue.
The British government declared on January 15 that a ten-day quarantine for Bermudian travellers to the UK would take effect later in the month.
The US announced it would require all international arrivals to produce a negative test result, taken inside three days before travel, from January 26.
The first load of the vaccine was enough to treat more than 4,500 people.
But Mr Burt was back on the front page on January 20 with news that vaccine sufficient for another 10,000 people was on its way.
It put the island on track to get more than one third of the population immunised against the virus by the end of March.
The vaccine programme was expanded to residents in nursing home residents by then.
Mr Burt said: “This is an absolutely massive undertaking.”
But he insisted: “I have no doubt we as a country can achieve it.”