A total of 270 people have had their first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at yesterday’s launching of the vaccination rollout, with the Ministry of Health (MoH) describing the event as an historical moment.
Some directors of government departments, heads of statutory bodies and private companies, diplomatic corps, financial institutions, politicians including the Mayor of Port Vila were among these first vaccine recipients.
The first person to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine was the Leader of Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu. The second person was Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek and then the Minister of Health, Silas Bule.
Prime Minister (PM), Bob Loughman, who was supposed to be the first person to get the coronavirus vaccine but he had to attend a close relative’s death yesterday.
The first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination for the 20% of the country’s population is now underway at the Convention Centre in Port Vila.
The first group of health workers and frontline workers as prioritised in the first phase of the vaccine rollout will be rolling up their sleeves to get jabbed today.
The priority groups identified by the government are people most exposed such as workers at the border, quarantine facility staff, public transport drivers and health workers. People vulnerable are elderly people aged 55 and above and people over 35 with existing medical conditions.
It would take some time to vaccinate the priority groups first before the general public. The Ministry of Health (MoH) is anticipating over 4,000 frontline workers and over 8,000 risk population in the first vaccination phase.
Director General (DG) of the MoH, Russel Tamata, said they want the whole community to be immunized before the country could face any transmission.
He took the opportunity during yesterday’s event to announced this weekend’s arrival of the additional 20,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China.
Speaking on behalf of the partners for COVAX Initiative, New Zealand (NZ) High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Jonathan Schwass said vaccines are significant in the fight against coronavirus.
He said vaccines reduce the chances of transmitting the virus and getting really sick with the virus. The risk of getting side effects are minimal compare to the risk of getting infected with coronavirus, he added.
“I’m strongly everyone to listen to advices from our medical professionals when they say that vaccines are to protect you and your loved ones. We are happy that the government has prioritised frontline workers and vulnerable groups in the vaccination rollout. It means that our grandfathers and grandmothers are safe from this dangerous sick.”
According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Country Liaison Officer to Vanuatu, Dr Kunyoung Ko, vaccines have been in existence before COVID, but the coronavirus has made the use of vaccines even more important.
She explained that AstraZeneca vaccine being rolled out in Vanuatu is one of the six vaccines approved by WHO for Emergency Use Listing (EUL), a process to assess the quality, safety and efficacy of vaccines.
“There are no shortcuts in the process,” she conveyed.
“Vaccine safety is important to WHO thus, monitoring side effects during vaccination is required.
“Any side effects suspected during vaccination are reported and scientifically evaluated.”
She said the WHO recognises the hard work of the MoH and its partners, especially UNICEF for securing vaccines through the COVAX facility and ensuring it reaches Vanuatu.