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TMO responds to Rakahanga vax issue

Friday 8 April 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in National, Outer Islands

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TMO responds to Rakahanga vax issue
The New Zealand Navy team delivering the Pfizer vaccine to Palmerston in July, 2021. Palmerston, like Rakahanga, doesn’t have an airstrip and is only accessible by sea. NZDF/21082308

Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health says the “cold chain management timing for the vaccine” is the reason behind their inability to take the Covid-19 vaccine to Rakahanga.

Rakahanga residents are frustrated they need to travel to Manihiki to receive their booster shot instead of transporting the vaccines to them.

An island resident told Cook Islands News that it was “stupid” to send over 70 people to Manihiki instead of a few health workers going to the island to complete the vaccine rollout.

Secretary of Health Bob Williams yesterday said: “There is cold chain management timing for the vaccine which with all the travel time will exceed the expected timing and will affect the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

“The other issue is the sensitivity of the vaccine taking it on sea depending on sea condition that it may also affect the vaccine.

“So this issue not about why TMO (Te Marae Ora) is not able to deploy our staff to Rakahanga. These are the planning that we do with all the vaccinations completed to date.”

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, undiluted thawed Pfizer vaccine vials – which are used in the Cook Islands – can be stored in the refrigerator at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius for up to a month. Previously thawed, undiluted vaccines were thought to last for up to five days.

Cook Islands News asked Williams how long the vaccines could be out of the cold storage.

Williams responded: “(I) don’t want to share details on timing.”

He said Te Marae Ora’s initial advice was to wait for the arrival of the new police patrol boat Te Kukupa II.

Rakahanga is one of the three Northern Group islands without an airstrip and is only accessible by sea. Te Marae Ora delivered the first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine using (now retired) Te Kukupa I.

The island’s Member of Parliament, Tina Browne, who is also the Opposition leader, told Cook Islands News on Wednesday: “The poor Island Council was put on the spot, and really given an ultimatum that if they wanted their children to be vaccinated then they have to transport them to Manihiki.”

“The island administration wants the people to be vaccinated so they had to make the tough decision … it’s not a good choice for the island to make, it was just which is better of the two worst options.”