Port Vila, Vanuatu, 20 May 2021 – Yesterday on 19 May, Vanuatu joins Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Nauru, Tuvalu and Samoa, in the Pacific islands, to receive COVID-19 vaccine doses shipped via the COVAX Facility, a partnership between CEPI, Gavi, UNICEF and WHO. This is a historic step towards achieving the goal to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, in what will be part of the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history.
The 19 May 2021 arrival in Port Vila of 24,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID19 vaccine marks the seventh country for vaccines to arrive in the Pacific region through the COVAX Facility in the global partnership’s effort to deliver at least two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2021.
On receiving the news of the arrival of the vaccine, the Prime Minister Honourable Bob Loughman Weibur, stated, “Vanuatu has been so fortunate to have been COVID-19-free for a long time thanks to the measures the Government had the foresight to implement. In that time, we have worked hard to put in place a national plan for rollout of the vaccine - an important tool to fight the pandemic. We are appreciative of a mechanism like the COVAX Facility that enabled Vanuatu to receive our first batch of COVID-19 vaccines to protect our front liners. With no COVID-19 cases in the country, unlike our unfortunate Pacific neighbours, it is the opportune time for us to roll out the vaccination programme in a smooth and peaceful way to protect ourselves, our families, communities and future.”
Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccination Alliance, emphasized that “COVAX's mission is to help end the acute phase of the pandemic as soon as possible, allowing global equitable access to vaccines against COVID-19.”
“This pandemic continues to devastate children and their communities around the world,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Sheldon Yett. “We will continue to work with the Government of Vanuatu and partners to support vaccination efforts and other essential public health measures needed to keep communities protected.”
“It is great news that Vanuatu is receiving the vaccines,” said Dr. Eunyoung Ko, WHO Country Liaison Officer of Vanuatu. “As we have seen here over the past year, the risk of COVID-19 is always present as long as we have connections with the outside world. This is why vaccines are so important, especially for the priority population: health workers, front liners, including border and quarantine workers, older persons, and people with underlying health conditions. The COVID-19 vaccine will protect you and your family from becoming severely ill should you get infected with the virus in the future. This is one of the effective ways for us to protect our population while maintaining other public health measures, such as, physical distance and practice hand hygiene.”
The Ministry of Health in Vanuatu, in its first phase of vaccine rollout, is targeting health workers and other frontline staff in line with global recommendations. This will include frontline healthcare workers, border control staff, and public transport drivers who are responding to COVID-19 quarantine and management of operations. Other priority in the first phase is elderly (55 years and above) and people living with existing conditions. Preparations are well underway for a national launch and planned roll out of the COVID19 vaccine from early June.
For several months, COVAX partners have been supporting governments and partners in readiness efforts, in preparation for this moment. They have been especially active in working with countries benefitting from the Advance Market Commitment (AMC), an innovative financial mechanism to help secure global and equitable access for COVID-19 vaccines. This includes assisting with the development of national deployment of vaccination plans, support for cold chain infrastructure, as well as stockpiling of half a billion syringes and safety boxes for their disposal, masks, gloves and other equipment to ensure that there is enough equipment for health workers to start vaccinating priority groups as soon as possible.
Vaccines are now arriving in batches to supported countries following necessary preparatory work being completed to ensure immediate administration of vaccines to priority groups identified by national governments in their vaccine deployment plans. Vanuatu has completed preparatory work in good time and therefore able to receive allotted vaccines from COVAX today.
As vaccines start to roll out around the world, they should complement, and not replace, proven public health measures. It is also important to expand access to rapid diagnostics and treatments, such as oxygen and dexamethasone, as advocated for by the ACT Accelerator. Vanuatu, like other countries, will continue to apply tried-and-tested measures to successfully prevent and control transmission, such as, handwashing with soap and water, covering coughs and sneezes, and physical distancing, alongside robust programmes to test, trace, isolate and treat.
The COVAX mechanism is offering a portfolio of vaccines suitable for a range of settings and populations and is on track to meet its goal of delivering at least two billion doses of vaccines to participating countries around the globe in 2021, including at least 1.3 billion donor-funded doses to the 92 lower-income COVAX Facility participants supported by the Gavi COVAX AMC. Vanuatu welcomes the arrival of this batch of vaccines and look forward to receiving additional batches needed to complete the vaccination of all eligible people living in Vanuatu.
In ensuring the safety and efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine has undergone rigorous clinical trials and safety assessments to ensure it meets the highest level of safety standards.
COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance Gavi) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – working in partnership with UNICEF as key implementing partner, as well as civil society organisations, vaccine manufacturers, the World Bank, and others.
Full COVAX News Note to Editors: https://www.who.int/initiatives/actaccelerator/covax/covax-news-note-to-editors
List of donor pledges to the Gavi COVAX AMC: https://www.gavi.org/sites/default/files/covid/covax/COVAX-AMC-Donors-Table.pdf