News Item

Pacific vaccination roll-out programme update

Media 16 Mar 2021

The New Zealand Government has been keeping the public regularly updated regarding its Covid Vaccination roll out, working collaboratively with Dr Suitafa Deborah Ryan, a leading Pacific health expert who has been appointed to the COVID-19 response advisory group which will focus on improving performance and the strategic direction of the COVID-19 response.

Earlier in the week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was reported as saying, "We're currently working alongside our Pacific neighbours, talking with them around their vaccination preferences. That includes whether or not Pfizer will be a possibility for rollout or whether or not they would prefer something that has slightly fewer logistical challenges.

"Ultimately, though, we are committed to ensuring that any doses not needed here are put to good use elsewhere, and that includes donation of surplus vaccines to others. Because no country is safe until all countries are safe."

A news article on 4 March reported, that the Ministry of Health wouldn't say which vaccines New Zealand was considering for the Pacific but that it has purchased sufficient vaccines to cover realm countries Tokelau, Niue and Cook Islands, and Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu should their Governments wish to take these up.

A spokesperson said, "New Zealand is committed in working with the Pacific to ensure they are prepared to receive vaccines, including in logistics support and online vaccinator workforce training. Our approach is to be flexible and to work in partnership - with the final decisions sitting with each of the countries to support their specific needs. We are also talking to Pacific Island countries about how we might support their own plans for vaccine access and roll out."

In December last year the Government announced $75 million of Official Development Assistance to support Pacific and global vaccine access including purchasing, planning, and delivery.

Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs Aupito William Sio attended the virtual Pacific Islands Forum Special Leaders Retreat from Waitangi with Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon Nanaia Mahuta on 3 February. During this Retreat, Pacific Leaders focussed on COVID-19 recovery and response, and in particular equitable and timely access to safe vaccines for the peoples of the Pacific.

Minister Aupito said at this retreat, “Today there is no issue more compelling and immediate than equitable access to vaccines for everyone in the Pacific. New Zealand is committed to ensuring everyone in the Pacific has access to a safe and effective vaccine and we will work across the region with Pacific member states, Australia, WHO, UNICEF, ADB and our external partners to make that happen."

It is yet to be seen what the actual Covid vaccination roll out will look like across the region but at the moment, Pacific Islands that are US territories are further ahead in their roll out with the First shipment of Covid-19 vaccine offloaded in American Samoa in December 2020.

The Marshall Islands has also recently pulled out of a Pacific regional Covid vaccine program because a steady stream of vaccines from the United States government is meeting the needs of the Republic.

An RNZ news item reported last weekend that 12,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Fiji, making it the first Pacific island country to get vaccines through the Covax scheme.

Papua New Guinea, with its total number of confirmed cases approaching 2000, has granted regulatory approval for the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to be used in the country. The government is preparing for the vaccine rollout, saying it hopes this will begin by the end of April.

Pacific health experts in New Zealand are concerned about a possible delay to a Covid-19 vaccine reaching the Pacific due to Pfizer’s strict storage requirements and a hold up of other vaccines.

A leading vaccine expert Professor Graham Le Gros says vaccinating Pacific Island nations against Covid-19 will be “really critical” to protect “vulnerable communities”, but there’s little detail currently about how New Zealand will help its neighbours.

Le Gros said it was about “communication, communication, communication” with people who were still deciding whether they’d get vaccinated.

Image: Dr Suitafa Deborah Ryan. Photo/Pacific Perspectives.