Health Minister Kim Wilson moved to reassure residents that the controversial COVID-19 vaccine “will work with your immune system so it will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed”.
“If you do get COVID-19, you are likely to experience milder symptoms and become less ill, as your body is better able to fight off the virus,” said the Minister.
Speaking at the latest briefing on Tuesday (Feb 2), she also stated: “We understand that some people may be hesitant, but we are confident that as you do your own research through trusted sources, you will be able to make an informed choice.
“We owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to use every tool at our disposal to try and slow the spread of the coronavirus, and the vaccine is without a doubt the most valuable and effective tool we have.
“Also, the Ministry acknowledges that there are several persons in our target groups Phase 1A and 1B who mistakenly provided the wrong phone number when registering, thus preventing the Hotline team from contacting them to make an appointment. If you are in one of these first two groups, particularly if you are more than 80 years old, please contact the Vaccine Hotline at 444-2489 (option #2) to make sure you get vaccinated,” she added.
“Residents needing outbound tests must book themselves in for outbound travel testing via one of the community sites – Pennos Wharf, Bull’s Head or Star of India. Do not go to Perot Post Office for this. You can book through: gov.bm/coronavirus-get-tested. There will be no walk-ins.
“We recommend you book two days before the date you plan to leave Bermuda. This meets the 72-hour rule of the US, UK and, when flights resume, Canada, and gives MDL lab more leeway to process results in time for your departure.
“As the half-term school break approaches, the Ministry of Health advises against non-essential travel off the island for all Bermuda residents during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, if travel is absolutely necessary, the Ministry of Health has developed guidance for the Safe Return to School and Day Care after Travel. These guidance requirements are the minimum recommended for schools and day cares and shall be used to implement policies for teachers, staff, children and parents in school and day care settings. You can find this guidance at gov.bm/coronavirus-schools.”
She also noted that since January 30, the Department of Health has received 4,467 test results from saliva screenings. But she stressed that “the World Health Organization currently does not recommend the use of saliva as the sole specimen type for routine clinical diagnostics”.
“However, saliva may be used in specific cases where collecting nasopharyngeal swabs can be problematic such as mass screening or, especially, when elderly persons with dementia or young children may be involved,,” said Ms Wilson.
“As such, Bermuda has implemented saliva screening programme in which any person testing as a “presumed positive” on saliva must also have a nasopharyngeal sample tested for diagnostic confirmation.
“Saliva screening of select populations began on September 28, 2020. These populations include: long term care facility staff and residents; BHB staff and patients; select essential service workers; other vulnerable populations; and, other select groups, such as hospitality workers.”
Of the 4,467 saliva screenings, she said “two (0.04%) have been presumed positive”.
“These numbers have not been previously reported for the afore-mentioned reasons – they are screening rather than confirmatory tests,” said the Minister.
“We intend to find a way to report these stats so that we give recognition for the screening work that is being performed locally and to maintain public confidence that we remain vigilant for outbreaks in general.
“Of the two presumed positives, one (1) was confirmed as positive by nasopharyngeal swab. The mean age of all persons screened is 59 years (median: 59 years), and the ages range from less than ten years to greater than 100 years,” she added.
“Until we achieve herd immunity, we encourage you to get tested to know your status, register to get vaccinated and never forget to avoid the 3Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings.”
Meanwhile, Premier David Burt said “the percentage of residents identifying as Black” looking to take the jab “is increasing with spikes specifically recorded on January 21 and January 27”.
“Many have asked how will taking the vaccine change your day to day life. At this moment, the one thing that we know for sure is that the vaccine is 95 percent effective in ensuring that you do not contract the coronavirus.
“However, at this time, after you received the vaccine, you should continue protecting yourself,” he added.
The Premier also held meetings this week with “the Minister of Transport and the Bermuda Tourism Authority to begin working on formulating a long term tourism and travel strategy for you”.
“I say that as we might have to change our approach given the changing circumstances in the world,” said Mr Burt.
“The Government will also discuss implementing a quarantine for all travellers who are arriving, who are not vaccinated.
“Right now this only applies to persons arriving from the United Kingdom, but we should address our strategy as conditions change in the world.
“Further, the government is working on rule changes for those who have received a second dose of the vaccine, and at our press conference on February 16, which is in two weeks, we will be able to release, what those changes will be.
“This is two weeks after the second doses were able to be administered here. And at that time, we will have the first resident who will have the full protection against the virus that the vaccine can offer. As the Minister stated soon we will be moving to phase two of the vaccination programme. Before that I strongly encourage all eligible persons to register,” he added.
“Public Service vehicle licensed drivers like taxi and bus drivers are eligible to receive the vaccine, so please make sure you register. I’ve heard some complaints from taxi drivers who may be picking up our tourists at the airport, etc. Please go ahead and register and get yourself vaccinated.”
Moving forward, he said: “The Government will increase the number of vaccination centres.
“A third vaccination centre would allow for more persons to receive the vaccine daily and help us to increase the number vaccinated.
“As the Minister of Health said our new target will be moved up to 800 per day.”
Details on the third vaccination centre will be announced before the end of the week.
Overall, he said: “I am proud of how as a people, we have worked together to get where we are.
“We can enjoy a sense of normality the majority of the world cannot enjoy at this time,” said Mr Burt.
But he stressed that now “not the time to throw caution to the wind”.
“Let us continue to be consistent in the actions that have helped us make progress in these last few months, and let us work together to make further progress. We all need to do our part. Again, I beg you, there is testing capacity available. Please get tested and if you’re eligible, please register for the vaccination.”