The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines is heading to Tokelau and northern Cook Islands aboard a New Zealand navy ship.
The 76-member crew of the HMNZS Wellington had undergone weeks of training to ensure strict safety protocols were in place to protect the islands from Covid-19.
Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, was in Auckland to see the shipment off today and said the Pfizer vaccine doses can only be delivered by boat to Tokelau because of its remote location.
More than 1500 people live on Tokelau's atolls, Fakaofo, Nukuonu and Atafu but only about 1100 are eligible to get the vaccine, he said.
The navy said the journey is expected to take up to six days - first to Fakaofo, then Nukuonu and Atafu. The delivery would be from the Wellington to a helicopter and then on to land.
It would be strictly contactless - to ensure no possible transmission of the virus. Crew handling the delivery of the vaccines would be wearing Personal Protective Equipment.
The trip will cover 5000 nautical miles from Auckland's Devonport base to Tokelau.
Aupito said Covid-free Tokelau is the last of New Zealand's realm nations to begin its vaccination programme.
He said it was a challenge to reach Tokelau with the added disadvantage of Samoa's strict border controls for transit.
"That finally we're able to roll out and deliver safe and effective vaccines for the people of Tokelau.
"This is going to give them confidence and making sure that we are not only thinking about the population of Aotearoa NZ but also the population of the realm islands of NZ who are NZ citizens."
Vaccination rollout for Palmy islanders
Aupito said onboard the naval vessel are also doses enough to vaccinate about 30 residents of Palmerston North Island in the northern Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands began vaccinating on May 19, on the first day of the quarantine-free travel bubble with New Zealand.
Aupito said the trip from Tokelau to Palmy Island will take two more days.
"It's been quite challenging, talking and working with the Cook Islands government. We've now vaccinated Rarotonga, Aitutaki and now working on the southern parts of the island.
"The northern part is Palmerston North with a population of about 30. Once the Wellington delivers our vaccines to Tokelau, it will coordinate with the Cook Islands officials to deliver the vaccine to them."
Aupito said Palmerston Island had the capability to store the vaccine at -20degrees temperature.
He said the integrity of the vaccine would be maintained throughout the transportation on the ship.
"Once they reach the islands, they are then able to throw it to your normal -8degrees temperature."
Aupito said Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu are also part of New Zealand's vaccination rollout program.
Niue began its vaccine rollout in June and is close to vaccinating its entire eligible population.
Its government is now considering vaccinating its 12 to15 year olds, pending MedSafe approval.