Pfizer vaccine rollout next week for youth in Tonga, but unvaccinated over-18s too slow

Around 31,600 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from New Zealand will arrive in Tonga next week aimed at inoculating 12 to 17-year-olds and pregnant women confirmed the Minister for Health, Dr ‘Amelia Tu’ipulotu Wednesday.

The plan is to start rolling out the Pfizer vaccine after its arrival on 20 October, in schools around Tonga. Young people with disabilities will also be vaccinated.

Town Officers and church groups in each suburb or area will assist health teams to also reach out to families with young children who are not registered at schools.

To date, out of 63,128 people aged 18 years and over, 50,001 people have received their first dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccines, while 30,953 have received their second doses.

This means over half of the eligible over-18s have not completed their vaccinations yet.

The Minister said the aim is to vaccinate 70 percent of the population by December 2021 to be able to repatriate people from high risk countries.

There is no vaccine for babies and those under the age of 12.

Assistant Medical Superintendent, Dr ‘Ana ‘Akau’ola urged people to come forward and get vaccinated for COVID-19 to protect Tonga and young children from birth to 11-years-old because there is no vaccine for them.

“By getting vaccinated, we can protect young children from the virus. The World Health Organisation has not confirmed the vaccine is safe for young children.”

Dr ‘Akau’ola said the vaccine will protect Tonga when we live with COVID-19.

“It isn’t the question of when will the virus get here, because the approach of larger countries around the world at the moment is to learn to live with COVID-19.”

“My view is that we will reach the same decision as the rest of the world. That is why the Ministry of Health is urging people to come forward to get your vaccine for Tonga.”

Around 10,000 doses of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine donated by Japan and due to expire on 12 November will be returned to COVAX today, said Dr Tu’ipulotu.

“These are the extra doses remaining from the vaccine rollout.”

The Minister explained the health team managed to extract more than 10 doses per vial so as not to waste the vaccine. Now discussions are underway with Japan to provide the same amount of vaccines to Tonga in the future.

Ministry of Health CEO Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola said people had been too slow to take up the extra doses but the 10,000 doses will be forwarded to Vietnam.

“Vietnam is happy to accept the excess doses as they can use it in one day.”

“So that is why we are liaising with Japan to send us another 10,000 doses. People need to be aware that this is not an easy thing to do. These discussions are difficult to have.”

Tonga has secured a stockpile of vaccines in Australia.

“This stockpile is for when we really need vaccines and can’t get any more from COVAX or Japan. We can ask Australia to send us vaccines. There are 26,000 doses in the stockpile,” said the Minister for Health.

The next repatriation flight is scheduled to arrive from Christchurch, New Zealand on 27 October, confirmed Dr ‘Akua’ola.

“An estimated 300 people are expected to be repatriated.”

“The majority of passengers are from the South Island as there is no [COVID-19] community transmission there.”

Around 200 of the passengers are seasonal workers, some are Tonga’s Olympians and officials, and others.

A small group of passengers from Auckland are expected to be on the flight butr they need to spend 14 days in the South Island before coming to Tonga.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health is now looking at a contact tracing app as part of preparation plans for when borders open.

Dr ‘Akau’ola said there are many contact tracing apps used in different countries “but our IT team is looking at what we can use in Tonga.”

“We need to be ready.”

Dr ‘Akau’ola said at the moment, the Ministry is doing a review of quarantine facilities and frontliners, port of entry – ports and airport, police, HMAF and their capacity to quarantine if more passengers are repatriated.

“But it would be easier if people get vaccinated.”

“We can’t close our borders forever in Tonga,” he said.


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