Weeks of training for contactless delivery of Pfizer jabs to virus-free Tokelau

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The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines for Tokelau will leave New Zealand on Monday, delivered by the naval ship HMNZS Wellington.

The 76-member crew underwent weeks of rehearsals to ensure strict safety protocols were in place to protect the islands from Covid-19.

The Pfizer vaccine doses will be enough to vaccinate Tokelau’s entire eligible population and can only be delivered by boat because of its remote location.

Nearly 1500 people live on Tokelau’s three atolls – Fakaofo, Nukuonu and Atafu.

Also onboard the naval vessel, which has a 76-member crew, are doses enough to vaccinate 30 residents of Palmerston Island – a coral atoll in the northwest region of the Cook Islands.

Tokelau is the last of New Zealand’s realm nations to begin its vaccination programme.

The Cook Islands began vaccinating in May, on the first day of the quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand.

Niue began its roll-out in June and has almost vaccinated its entire eligible population. Its government was now considering vaccinating its 12-15 year olds, pending MedSafe approval.

HMNZS Wellington’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Philip Davis, said the crew had undergone special training for the important mission to Tokelau.

The journey would take up to six days, first to Fakaofo, then Nukuonu and Atafu, and delivery would be from the naval ship, to a helicopter, and then on to land.

It would be strictly contactless – to ensure no possible transmission of the virus.

Tokelau remains one of only a few countries in the world to remain Covid-free.

Davis said training for the mission was held in different parts of Auckland, both by aircraft and boat, trialling different scenarios and handling boxes similar to those carrying the vaccine.

“There’s a process of taking it out of the container, transferring it onto the aircraft at the right time, all the while monitoring its temperature, and then landing onto each atoll and the process of handing it over,” Davis said.

Crew handling the delivery of the vaccines would be wearing Personal Protective Equipment.

“It will be delivered to the designated person, at a distance, [they will] move back, retrieve data log and once they’re happy and [have] checked everything, then we depart on aircraft again.

“A lot of work has gone into it, both from the Defence [Force] side and Ministry of Health.”

The trip will cover 5000 nautical miles from Auckland’s Devonport base, departing at 3pm on Monday.

The trip from Tokelau to Palmerston Island in the Cooks will take two more days.

“Everyone’s pretty excited to do our part and help out the Pacific Islands, give them the benefit of having the vaccines and reviving their economies as well.”

Associate Minister of Health and Foreign Affairs, and Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, said it was quite challenging to reach Tokelau, with the added disadvantage of Samoa’s strict border controls for transit.

“I’m excited because Tokelau was really logistically challenging and then of course you have a vaccine that has to be maintained at a certain freezer degree for transportation,” he said.

Tokelau’s New Zealand administrator Ross Ardern said he was excited the plan had finally come to fruition, acknowledging the effort to put together a mission such as this.

“We haven’t detected any resistance of the vaccine on Tokelau and there’s bound to be one or two people, as are in any population, that are concerned by it,” Ardern said.

“By and large, people of Tokelau are really looking forward to the delivery of the vaccine.”

He anticipated the vaccine would arrive on 19 July, and the roll-out to get underway two days later.

“Within a month we should be done,” he said.

The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines for Tokelau will leave New Zealand on Monday, delivered by the naval ship HMNZS Wellington.

The 76-member crew underwent weeks of rehearsals to ensure strict safety protocols were in place to protect the islands from Covid-19.

The Pfizer vaccine doses will be enough to vaccinate Tokelau’s entire eligible population and can only be delivered by boat because of its remote location.

Nearly 1500 people live on Tokelau’s three atolls – Fakaofo, Nukuonu and Atafu.

Also onboard the naval vessel, which has a 76-member crew, are doses enough to vaccinate 30 residents of Palmerston Island – a coral atoll in the northwest region of the Cook Islands.

Tokelau is the last of New Zealand’s realm nations to begin its vaccination programme.

The Cook Islands began vaccinating in May, on the first day of the quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand.

Niue began its roll-out in June and has almost vaccinated its entire eligible population. Its government was now considering vaccinating its 12-15 year olds, pending MedSafe approval.

HMNZS Wellington’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Philip Davis, said the crew had undergone special training for the important mission to Tokelau.

The journey would take up to six days, first to Fakaofo, then Nukuonu and Atafu, and delivery would be from the naval ship, to a helicopter, and then on to land.

It would be strictly contactless – to ensure no possible transmission of the virus.

Tokelau remains one of only a few countries in the world to remain Covid-free.

Davis said training for the mission was held in different parts of Auckland, both by aircraft and boat, trialling different scenarios and handling boxes similar to those carrying the vaccine.

“There’s a process of taking it out of the container, transferring it onto the aircraft at the right time, all the while monitoring its temperature, and then landing onto each atoll and the process of handing it over,” Davis said.

Crew handling the delivery of the vaccines would be wearing Personal Protective Equipment.

“It will be delivered to the designated person, at a distance, [they will] move back, retrieve data log and once they’re happy and [have] checked everything, then we depart on aircraft again.

“A lot of work has gone into it, both from the Defence [Force] side and Ministry of Health.”

The trip will cover 5000 nautical miles from Auckland’s Devonport base, departing at 3pm on Monday.

The trip from Tokelau to Palmerston Island in the Cooks will take two more days.

“Everyone’s pretty excited to do our part and help out the Pacific Islands, give them the benefit of having the vaccines and reviving their economies as well.”

Associate Minister of Health and Foreign Affairs, and Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, said it was quite challenging to reach Tokelau, with the added disadvantage of Samoa’s strict border controls for transit.

“I’m excited because Tokelau was really logistically challenging and then of course you have a vaccine that has to be maintained at a certain freezer degree for transportation,” he said.

Tokelau’s New Zealand administrator Ross Ardern said he was excited the plan had finally come to fruition, acknowledging the effort to put together a mission such as this.

“We haven’t detected any resistance of the vaccine on Tokelau and there’s bound to be one or two people, as are in any population, that are concerned by it,” Ardern said.

“By and large, people of Tokelau are really looking forward to the delivery of the vaccine.”

He anticipated the vaccine would arrive on 19 July, and the roll-out to get underway two days later.

“Within a month we should be done,” he said.

SOURCE: STUFF NZ/PACNEWS