As the morning light settled over Nadi Town on 10 March 2021, Fiji’s frontline team, who have been leading efforts to keep COVID-19 contained in the country, waited anxiously for the first distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
Only 3 days prior, Fiji welcomed its highly anticipated first batch of COVID-19 vaccines, supplied through the global COVAX facility – an initiative set up to facilitate the equitable distribution of safe COVID-19 vaccines to all countries, as rapidly as possible.
These vaccines play a key role in Fiji’s response to the global pandemic, in addition to continuing with other public health measures such as hand hygiene and physical distancing.
Dr Ratu Mara Vukivukiseru is the first person in Fiji to receive the vaccination. As a consultant anesthetist and COVID-19 clinical lead in Fiji’s Western Division, Dr Ratu Mara has been at the forefront of the country’s response, treating COVID-19 patients in isolation wards and is one of the country’s frontline health care heroes.
Nine others were vaccinated at the vaccination rollout event including other frontline health care workers, airport staff, hoteliers and border police.
Police Superintendent Kafoa has been working with the Fiji Police Force for 27 years. However, in 2020 his job became very different. Stationed at Nadi International Airport, Superintendent Kafoa is one of the first people to receive incoming travelers to Fiji, guiding them through the country’s rigorous safety processes to quarantine.
Superintendent Kafoa’s wife and daughter both work for Fiji Airways, and life hasn’t been easy for them over the past year. With strict border quarantine protocols, the 3 have struggled to look after his 90-year-old grandma who has needed constant care.
Today, Superintendent Kafoa also became one of the first people in Fiji to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
“I know that vaccines will not change how we operate just yet, but we are very happy because this offers an extra layer of protection for our job, and we hope that when we vaccinate most of the population, my family will also be protected.”
Nurse Ali Tasmin is one of the many nurses who is administering Fiji’s COVID-19 vaccines.
“I am very proud to be a part of this amazing team. We’ve been waiting for this day for a long time and I will do my best to protect the people of Fiji with this vaccine.”
By the end of Day 1, Nurse Tasmin had vaccinated over 100 people.
The Friday prior to the arrival of the vaccines, Nurse Tasmin participated in critical health care workers’ training in administering the vaccine, delivered by the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical services and supported by technical experts from WHO and UNICEF.
MAKING SURE THE OPERATION GOES WELL
Dr Rachel Devi is the Head of Fiji's COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce and over the past months has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure Fiji is well prepared and ready to receive and safely deliver these vaccines.
On this day she works closely alongside her team, diligently ensuring all final checks are done for the vaccination sites set up throughout the division.
"We have set up almost 20 sites today in the Western Division of Fiji for this first batch of vaccine. We will be going around today to see how it's going at different sites, making sure the teams are set up properly and things are going smoothly."
After inspecting the airport vaccination site, Dr Rachel leads her team one hour east to the town of Sigatoka to inspect the ongoing vaccination at the Sigatoka hospital, where 287 health care providers are scheduled to get vaccinated in the coming days.
At the vaccination sites, doctors and nurses will first explain to patients the common symptoms they may experience after the vaccination and answer any questions they may have about the vaccine. Patients will also be given a vaccination card where the date for their planned second dose of vaccine is given so it’s easy for them to remember.
Medical teams who have been trained at Sigatoka Hospital were also sent out to nearby resorts, that host quarantine guests, to establish vaccination sites.
These teams usually consist of a doctor, two nurses and data entry personnel. At one of the hotels, Dr Elizabeth Dass lead her team to set up an observation room next door to the vaccination site, where vaccinated individuals are asked to rest and are closely monitored for 15 minutes to ensure they experience no adverse side-effects. Ensuring the safety for all persons vaccinated is at the forefront of these operations, and resources and equipment are onsite to respond.
The first day of the vaccination was launched at the airport by Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete, Minister of Health and Medical Services of Fiji, Dr Akeem Ali, Acting WHO Representative for the South Pacific, WHO technical officer Dr Wendy Snowdon and UNICEF Pacific Representative Sheldon Yett. All expressed gratitude towards the COVAX facility and the development partners, including the governments of Australia, New Zealand, UK, as well as the European Union and USAID.
At the launch, WHO called for the media of Fiji to continue to support accurate and timely information on COVID-19 vaccines, stressed the importance of continuing to abide by public health measures and protocols that are already in place, and staying vigilant to keep Fiji safe.