STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE
DURING THE ELEVENTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION
OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Thursday 12th August, 2021
BVI-USVI Vaccination Bubble Initiative
Mister Speaker, Today, I stand before this Honourable House to give an exciting report about the BVI-USVI Vaccination Bubble Initiative as we continue our quest to encourage vaccination against the dreaded COVID-19 virus.
The British Virgin Islands and the United States Virgin Islands has long shared a relationship reflective of the friendship and mutual respect, cultural identity, ancestral connections, and familial ties, which bind both Territories.
In fact, it was former Governor of the USVI - Charles Turnbull who coined the relationship ‘the Greater Virgin Islands’ because despite our different nationalities, the BVI and USVI are still one Virgin Islands, one people, we are a family!
It was, therefore, no surprise that this respectful partnership we share would produce the vaccination initiative between the Government of the Virgin Islands and the Government of the United States Virgin Islands.
Together we were able to forge out of a need to provide more opportunities for persons from the BVI to get vaccinated in the USVI.
Thanks to Governor Albert Bryan Jr., the Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are now available to a cross-section of the BVI population who otherwise would not have been able to get vaccinated.
On August 3, the first voyage set sail for St. John with 36 persons who were eligible for vaccination. Thirty-two of the 36 were children, and I must say that I am pleased to see parents being proactive about their children’s health and not taking any chances with this virus. I am also pleased that today, 76 persons have taken the opportunity to travel to St. John to be vaccinated and the majority of these again, are school-aged children.
Although this is an excellent initiative, it is not something that will last forever. This week Friday is the last call for new applicants, because there are timelines attached to this operation. Mister Speaker you would be aware that the COVID-19 virus is on the increase in the United States Virgin Islands. While we would seek to expand the registration period to another week, this week is that timeframe that has been given to us.
As of August 10th, we have had 152 persons registered to participate in this initiative. This number includes the 36 persons who received their first dose on August 3rd. I reported that we had another set that travelled today. I wish to congratulate those parents and other persons who have taken advantage of this opportunity.
I would like to take this opportunity also Mister Speaker, to encourage persons to submit their applications as soon as possible if they want to be considered to participate. I have asked the Honourable Member from the Ninth District to promote this initiative the active registration so that if we have to take a vessel from Virgin Gorda straight to St. John, this can be accomplished. We will stop at no ends, in order to ensure that everyone who desires to be voluntarily vaccinated can do this.
Persons can complete the Vaccination Bubble Registration Form, which can be found on Government’s website, and submit it along with the listed documents through email to the firstname.lastname@example.org. Persons can also register by calling 852- 7525 Monday through Friday between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
In recognising that travel has become a somewhat daunting task, to say the least, we have adjusted the entry requirements for persons wishing to participate in this initiative as a form of an incentive. As a result, Cabinet has made additional amendments to the COVID-19 Control and Suppression Measures (Entry of Persons) (Amendment) Regulations, 2021 to facilitate the process and to make it easier for persons who wish to participate.
These decisions are as follows:
• Persons going to and from the USVI, specifically to receive vaccinations, or to accompany minors for that purpose, under the agreed protocols with the USVI authorities, would be exempt from the applicable quarantine requirement for the partially vaccinated persons. That means they will not have to quarantine for the 4 days on return. They are also exempted from registering on the entry portal and from payment of the associated fees, including fees to exit the Territory.
So you see, Mister Speaker, this Government is doing our best to make this process as affordable and comfortable as we can for all participants.
However, there are stipulations that prospective applicants should note; first and foremost, 12 to17 year olds will be given priority:
- Individuals under the age of 18 must have a parent or legal guardian accompany them. If the parents or legal guardian is not travelling with the minor, a notarised letter by the parent allowing the person to accompany the child must be presented;
- An official birth certificate must be presented at the time of vaccination to the USVI Department of Health for each child;
- Persons must have a valid passport and ordinarily meet immigration requirements to enter the US Virgin Islands; and
- Individuals must be able to fund all costs associated with getting the vaccine, including transportation and logistical costs.
During the application intake process, persons will be asked a series of questions. We want to know your contact information, immigration status, vaccination preference, vaccination history if any, your reason for participating, your medical history, and if you have previously tested positive for COVID-19, among other information.
Participants will also have to sign their application and a declaration exempting the Government of the Virgin Islands from any and all liabilities associated with the vaccine.
Mister Speaker, individuals successful at this stage, will be added to the Bubble list. Persons on the bubble list will be given a date and time to check-in at the West End Ferry Dock. Persons will have to check-in at least one hour and a half before the departure time of the ferry to allow for the mandatory rapid antigen testing before boarding and leaving the Territory.
In light of the present limitations at the West End Ferry Dock, persons will be required to pay for the rapid antigen test at the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital prior to checking in and when they call they can have it done electronically.
The cost associated with this test is $35.00 per person participating in the bubble. They will also be required to pre-book with the relevant ferry before the day of departure. The cost of the ferry is $55.00 per person which includes $45.00 for the boat and $10.00 USVI Departure tax.
Mister Speaker, only persons with a negative test result, will be allowed to board the vessel. Upon arrival at Cruz Bay - St. John, the vessel will be inspected by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Passengers will be allowed to exit the ferry, clear customs, and proceed to the Department of Health (DOH) for vaccine processing and administration.
When finished, the vaccinated passengers will return to the ferry to wait until the observation period is over, and the ferry will depart to return to West End, Tortola. I am pleased to announce that the trip today left at 12:05 and within two hours, it was on its way back.
Mister Speaker that was a little overview of the process. It is a quick and easy process. We have done all that we can to make it as affordable as possible.
But like I said earlier, this initiative has a timestamp that is about to expire at the closure of business on Friday, August 13. While we will seek to extend it, this is the date that we have, this is the date we are working with.
While we are presently in discussions with the USVI Government to extend this offering further into September, as it is presently, persons with an interest must apply at the latest by this Friday, August 13th.
Mister Speaker, so far, we have six trips scheduled. Voyage #2 was supposed to set sail on Tuesday, August 10th. However, storm conditions made us have to reschedule that voyage for today.
As I speak, persons are presently boarding at the West End.At this point, I have to express my gratitude to the Government of the USVI and all the team players here in the Virgin Islands and in the USVI along with the participants for making this initiative successful. We do not know what the future holds as it relates to COVID-19, but we do know that we can vaccinate today to safeguard our lives tomorrow.
I urge our Virgin Islands community to continue to follow all public health protocols, such as wearing your face masks correctly, be sure it covers your nose and mouth. Continue to practice frequent hand hygiene. Continue to maintain physical distance in public spaces and continue to use every opportunity that is presented to you to get vaccinated as it saves lives. It is our best tool to reduce the transmission of the virus and save the lives of our people.
Mister Speaker, I want to thank you again for giving me this opportunity to update this Honourable House about this initiative as well as to share vital information with the public regarding this vaccine operation.
We will get through this together. Stay safe, and May God continue to bless our beautiful Virgin Islands, United States Virgin Islands –all our people better yet, the Greater Virgin Islands.Thank you Mr. Speaker.