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Palau on track to start Covid-19 vaccination in 2021

Monday 21 December 2020 | Written by RNZ | Published in Palau, Regional

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Palau on track to start Covid-19 vaccination in 2021
Palau Health Minister, Emais Roberts Photo: Palau Govt/ Wendy Capili-Wilkie

Palau health officials said they are on track to conduct its first Covid-19 vaccination by January.

And according to the Center for Disease Control website ,the nation will get its Moderna allocation, simultaneous with Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) this week.

The US Food and Drug Administration last week authorized the second Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use.

Dr Emais Roberts, Palau Health Minister earlier said that Moderna is more suitable for the nation because it doesn't need cold storage.

Gaafar Uherbelau Ministry of Health's Emergency Operation Center's (EOC) Deputy Incident Commander said that first batch of vaccines will be given to healthcare workers first, and then frontline workers, government workers, 18 or older with underlying conditions and the 65 and older.

If everything goes as planned, Mr Uherbelau said by January 11 they can start administering the vaccine.

"But I looks like we are on track and that the administering of these vaccines will be on January 11th or it could be earlier than that," he told reporters in a press conference on Wednesday.

The ministry said it has been working over the past several weeks to prepare d and has established a vaccine task force.

Uherbelau also thanked CNMI who offered to provide Palau with cold storage that can be used for the Pfizer vaccine.

"Once they get the ultra cold freezer they will start ordering the Pfizer vaccine.

Healthcare workers will be given the vaccine first, and then frontline workers, government workers, 18 or older with underlying conditions and the 65 and older," he said.

U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, Douglas W. Domenech , in a press release last week said that the US. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau are included in the United States' schedule of Covid-19 vaccine distribution, whether Pfizer or Moderna, under the Operation Warp Speed.

Uherbelau said that for the first batch of Moderna vaccine , Palau will be getting 2,800 doses.

"We will be getting the doses on a monthly basis and the quantity of the vaccine that will be administered can change. It will cover 1,400 people where 1 person will take two doses."

Minister Roberts have earlier said that the US has committed to giving Palau 80% coverage of its 18,000 population.

He is however confident that the entire population can be vaccinated given the small population of Palau.

Dr Roberts though expects skepticism about the vaccine and that there are people who might refuse the vaccine given that it's voluntary.

He however encouraged the community to get the vaccine when it becomes available for the population's public safety.

The vaccine also sparked hope the tourism reliant Palau, will be able to reopen borders to tourism, but Uherbelau said that while that decision relies on the incoming administration, the health officials advised is to ensure at least 80 percent are vaccinated.