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The Solomon Islands have officially become the second nation in the Pacific to receive COVID-19 vaccines through the global COVAX scheme, with 24,000 vaccine doses safely touching down at Honiara International Airport on March 19.

The COVAX Facility — an unparalleled vaccine equity partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness — is expected to eventually distribute enough vaccines for the tiny island nation to immunise 20% of its 700,000 population.

Solomon Islands Health Minister Culwick Togamana said the country has long worked to “stay one step ahead” of the spread of the pandemic, successfully maintaining months of COVID-19 free status and consistent infection, prevention and control standards.

The nation has managed to prevent any COVID-19 community transmission. 

The first batch of vaccines will only “bolster our capabilities to enhance our efforts to protect our people,” Togamana said. 

"Our sincere thank you to Gavi and the COVAX Facility for the first batch of the vaccines, UNICEF for facilitating the shipment of this vaccine consignment and both UNICEF and WHO for the ongoing technical advice and guidance,” he said in a statement.

The Solomon Islands government plans to distribute the first vaccines among priority groups, including the elderly, health workers and all persons aged 18 years and over living near the country's western maritime border with Papua New Guinea, which is in the midst of a spirilling COVID-19 outbreak. 

The mass rollout will commence in Honiara’s Central Field Hospital, as it is best equipped for the task, the country's Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said, according to Radio New Zealand.

"It is crucial that we commence the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Honiara so that our teams are seasoned by the time they deploy to the western border, where support facilities may be a little more limited,” he said, before urging all citizens not to fear the vaccination. "Do not be afraid to take the vaccination. Every medicine we take has side effects.”

The Honiara rollout is expected to be completed by Wednesday.


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Solomon Islands Receives First Batch of COVID-19 Vaccines From COVAX

By Madeleine Keck