Solomon Islands became the second country 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 19th March, 2021 arrival in Honiara of 24,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine marks the second batch of 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.
Solomon Islands Health Minister, Honourable Dr. Culwick Togamana, remarked that the arrival of the vaccines marks another important milestone in the efforts of government to stay one step ahead of the spread of the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“Several months after WHO declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic, Solomon Islands maintained a COVID-19 free status. Though the virus managed to sneak into the country in early October 2020, it was only met by well-prepared and disciplined frontline workers, quarantine stations and isolation wards that are up to infection, prevention and control standards, well equipped molecular laboratory and so forth that have prevented any community transmission till this day.”
“The vaccines received today and in the coming weeks and months will greatly bolster our capabilities to enhance our efforts to protect our people against COVID-19 and stay ahead of any potential community transmission. As such, our sincere thank you to GAVI and the COVAX Facility for the first batch of the vaccines, UNICEF for facilitating the shipment of this vaccine consignment and both UNICEF and WHO for the ongoing technical advice and guidance. Sincere thank you as well to all health staff who have worked tirelessly with determination to ensure we join other countries around the world to receive the vaccine and protect our people,” said Dr. Togamana.
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.”
“We thank the Government of Solomon Islands for their public health leadership, as well as the donors’ commitment made to the COVAX facility for the equitable access to vaccines throughout the world,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Pacific Representative. “This delivery is part of the first wave of arrivals that will continue in the weeks to come.”
WHO Representative to Solomon Islands, Dr. Sevil Huseynova, highlighted that WHO is very glad to witness the historical moment.
“We have been working hard with the government and UNICEF over the past few months to ensure the timely submission of the national vaccine deployment plan as well as all other necessary preparation work that had enabled commitment from GAVI to support Solomon Islands part of which we are witnessing today.”
She acknowledged the hard work by the Ministry of Health team in preparing for the arrival of the vaccines.
“From identifying priority groups, developing tracking systems to upskilling of staff for vaccine delivery. WHO will continue to work alongside our colleagues here to ensure we safely deliver these vaccines.”
The Solomon Islands Ministry of Health and Medical Services is targeting priority groups as per the global recommendations for vaccination in Honiara with plans now in place to conduct mass vaccination of all persons above 18 years along the western border following recent concerning increase of cases in Bougainville.
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 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. Solomon Islands has completed preparatory work in good time and therefore able to receive allotted vaccines from COVAX today (Friday 19th March 2021).
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. Solomon Islands, like other countries, will continue to apply tried-and-tested measures to successfully prevent and control transmission, such as physical distancing, masks, ventilation and hand hygiene, 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 vaccine 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. Solomon Islands welcomes the arrival of this batch of vaccines and look forward to receiving additional batches needed to complete the vaccination of all eligible Solomon Islanders.
In ensuring the safety and efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine has undergone rigorous clinical trials and safety assessments in order to ensure it meets the highest level of safety standards.