Update on COVID-19 Vaccines

Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare has informed that nation in his national address this week that the first shipment of 24,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Vaccines into the country is expected Friday this week, 19th March 2021.

The 24,000 doses are the first tranche of the 108,000 doses that have been confirmed by the COVAX facility to be given to Solomon Islands by June 2021. 

He said the 108,000 are provided free to Solomon Islands by the COVAX facility as part of its commitment to support Solomon Islands cover 20% of our population.

“The rest of the doses to make up the 20% will be delivered later in the year.

“The AstraZeneca Vaccine has been approved by the World Health Organisation and has been used in more than 40 countries world-wide. We can roll out this vaccine shortly after its arrival in the country,” he said.

Government also anticipates receiving 20,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccines in early April.

The Sinopharm vaccine is one of the 3 vaccines developed in China.

“We anticipate WHO approval of the Sinopharm vaccine sometime this month.

“Once the WHO approval is granted, we will also be able to roll out the implementation of the Sinopharm vaccine in the country,” he said.


Vaccine supplies

It is estimated that Solomon Islands will need between 900,000 to 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to cover the total population of people above 18 years of age in the country. 

“So far, we have received a commitment of 108,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX facility and 20,000 doses of Sinopharm from the People’s Republic of China – a total of 128,000 doses.

“We still have a gap of between 772,000 and 872,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines that we need to secure to cover the total 18 years and over population,” Prime Minister, Hon Manasseh Sogavare, said.

“If the current trials on children confirm that children can also be vaccinated, we estimate an additional 600,000 doses will be required to vaccinate the whole population f Solomon Islands,” he added.

The Government is working hard to secure more vaccine supplies through the COVAX facility and from the PRC to bridge the gap.

“We will also be making direct approach to the Government of India, one of the major producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine to complement what the COVAX facility is able to provide,” Hon Sogavare said.


Who gets vaccinated?

While COVID-19 vaccination is not mandatory, it is the intention of the Government to vaccinate everyone that is 18 years and older and Government will try to accomplish this feat by the end of 2021.

However, as vaccine supplies are arriving in small quantities, Government will be very strategic and selective in identifying who should be included in the first round of vaccinations.

The Ministry of Health and the Oversight Committee have advised that the people most at risk from possible exposure to COVID-19 will be among the first to be vaccinated.

These people fall into three categories as follows:

Category 1: These are our front-liners and members of the frontline ministries, border agencies, SOEs and private sector entities whose work expose them to COVID-19 risks.

The focus in this category will initially be on those employees whose daily work exposes them to COVID-19 and others in the frontline ministries, agencies, SOEs and the private sector.

Category 2: These are the communities along the western border in Choiseul, Western and Malaita Outer Island provinces.

The rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in PNG and in particular in Bougainville, makes vaccination along our western border a key priority.

Australia is doing the same thing right now as it starts rolling out its AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination program this week in their communities in Saibai, Boigu and Badu, the three islands in far north Queensland that are closest to PNG.

COVID-19 vaccination along the border zone aims to cover everybody from 18 years and above. However, if vaccine supply is inadequate to cover everybody during this phase, the older age groups will be prioritized.

Category 3: These are people above 50 years of age who have some existing diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, chronic respiratory diseases including those with or had recovered from Tuberculosis and Asthma etc.

This category of people can be more seriously affected if they catch COVID-19 infection and must therefore be given added protection.

In addition, the country’s leaders are included in the first roll-out of the vaccines. This is to demonstrate to the public the level of confidence by our leaders on COVID-19 vaccines. It also ensures that we also provide additional protection to our leaders.

People coming under these categories will be advised of which vaccination stations they can go to for their vaccinations when vaccination rollout begins.

At this stage, family members of front-liners are not included in the first round of COVID-19 vaccination due to the limited availability of vaccines available. They will all be covered in later shipment of vaccines.

However, by vaccinating the front-liner, it is already protecting members of the front-liner’s family.

Detailed Vaccination Plan and training in administration of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Ministry of Health is now developing a detailed vaccination roll-out plan for the 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine.

They will also develop similar implementation plans for the Sinopharm vaccine.

Training is being conducted this week for vaccine administrators to ensure we can start administering the vaccine by early next week if it arrives this Friday.


Vaccination Centres

In Honiara, 3 vaccination centres are being considered. One each in East, Central and West Honiara.

The central Honiara location is the Triage area at the National Referral Hospital COVID-19 zone, at the eastern end of the NRH.

Discussions are underway to secure the RSIPF Hall for West Honiara and the SINU Marine Training School for East Honiara.

Authorities are also considering the possible use of the Central Field Hospital which is currently empty after all COVID-19 cases had been discharged almost 2 weeks ago. The field hospital has all essential back up facilities, including beds where people can rest after vaccination if required. Our health team will confirm during the week if we can use this facility.

The Ministry of Health will finalise plans for the vaccination sites in Choiseul province, Western province, and Malaita Outer Islands province during the week.

The Ministry will keep us all updated on the various locations for COVID-19 vaccination during the week.


Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines

Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare assured that Government have great confidence in the fact that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved the AstraZeneca vaccines. 

However, based on analysis of the side effects, the majority are minor and like those of other injectable medications. Of the severe reactions including death, it has not been demonstrated that these were due to the vaccine, because many of these people had multiple co-existing conditions.

Government has been told that every single vaccine ever produced have side effects, including those that we have routinely adopted for use in our country such as measles vaccine.

The World Health Organisation has stated there is no reason at this stage to discontinue the use of AstraZeneca vaccines. To the contrary it says AstraZeneca has contributed to the reduction of new COVID-19 cases.


Call to take COVID-19 vaccines

To demonstrate his confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Hon Manasseh Sogavare will take the first COVID-19 vaccination in Solomon Islands.

The Minister for Health and Medical Services will also be among the first to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine as soon as it rolls out in the country.

Other members of the Cabinet and Government Caucus will take their first does of COVID-19 vaccines when the vaccine administration roll out.

Members of the COVID-19 Oversight Committee and its various subcommittees will also take their COVID-19 vaccines during the first few days of the vaccination rollout plan.


About the author

Philip Lilomo is the Chamber's Media & Communications Officer. Philip writes most of the Chamber's media releases. He also manages the website contents, designs the Chamber's monthly newsletter, brochures and maintains the organisation's visual branding. 

Philip can be contacted on email: media@solomonchamber.com.sb 

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