NZ’s careful vaccine delivery to Tokelau

Tokelau is set to receive its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines from New Zealand.

The vaccines are to be delivered by the naval ship HMNZS Wellington by a 76-member crew, Stuff NZ has reported.

The Pfizer vaccine doses should be enough to vaccinate Tokelau’s eligible population.

There are about 1,500 people living in Tokelau’s three atolls – Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu.

The doses are enough to vaccinate the 30 residents of Palmerston Island – a coral atoll in the northwest region of the Cook Islands.

The vaccines will be delivered by a boat because of Tokelau’s remote location.

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

The Cook Islands started vaccinations in May while Niue began last month.

Niue’s government was considering vaccinating its 12-15 year old’s if MedSafe approves it.

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

The journey would take six days, first to Fakaofo, then Nukunonu and Atafu, and delivery would be from the ship, to a helicopter, and then on to land, he told Stuff.

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

Tokelau remains one of the few countries in the world to remain COVID-19 free.

According to the report, Mr 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,” Mr 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,” he said.

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

The ship departed Auckland’s Devonport base 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, Mr 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 came to fruition.

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

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

He expected that the vaccine would arrive next Monday (July 19), and the roll-out would be done two days later.

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

HMNZS Wellington. Photo: New Zealand Defence Force

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