The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are increasingly concerned for more than 1 million people in Pacific nations as they struggle with their first major wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the Omicron variants.
Ramping up vaccinations is vital as the rapid surge in COVID infections is causing increasing death and illness in countries with low immunisation rates.
COVID-free for almost two years, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Kiribati, and Samoa have all experienced outbreaks in their capitals, and the virus is spreading to vulnerable outer island communities which lack basic treatment and vaccination facilities.
The virus is putting huge strains on fragile healthcare systems in population centres such as Honiara, Port Vila and Nuku’alofa. A rising number of healthcare workers are being struck down with COVID-19, further limiting health services and escalating the crisis.
Sainiana Rokovucago, Acting Pacific Head of Delegation, International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said:
“It is critical that we reach the last mile with vaccinations in the most remote Pacific island villages. Every effort must be made by authorities to reach these communities, despite the logistical challenges of getting vaccines to these remote tropical islands.”
“Red Cross volunteers are working with communities to understand the importance of getting vaccinated and maintaining hygiene to stem the spread of this dangerous virus.”
Solomons Islands has reported more than 12,000 infections and more than 100 deaths since January, 2022. Vanuatu has reported over 6,000 cases and 12 deaths in the past two months. After the volcanic eruption and tsunami in January, Tonga is battling a triple disaster with over 9,000 cases and 11 deaths due to COVID.
In the Solomon Islands, only 20 percent of the eligible population have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data. In Vanuatu, only 38 per cent have received two doses, considered the minimum initial protocol to help protect people.
“There is strong evidence that vaccinations save lives. People in the Cook Islands are experiencing their first wave of the virus, yet due to the high vaccination rate of 100 per cent, they have been able to avoid severe illness and many deaths.”
“It is critical that we do even more to counter misinformation, knowledge gaps and rumours about COVID-19 and vaccinations, by building trust and vaccine by understanding any concerns, answering questions, and fostering dialogue through trusted channels.”
“COVID is far from over in the Pacific so we need to vaccinate everyone now,” she said.