New Zealand's rollout of vaccines to the Pacific is under way - even if the weather isn't cooperating.
The first phase of the HMNZS Wellington operation to deliver doses to remote islands was completed on Tuesday when enough Pfizer Covid-19 shots for the eligible populations of the Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu atolls of Tokelau were handed over.
To ensure social distancing, a rigid-hull inflatable boat and Seasprite helicopter were used to provide a contactless handover on the quayside at Atafu harbour.
The Navy offshore patrol vessel and 76 crew under Lieutenant Commander Phillip Davies are on a 5000 nautical mile voyage to some of the world's most remote places that has required detailed planning and complex problem solving in a multi-agency effort. The Ministry of Health, with the support of the NZ Defence Force and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been working with Tokelau officials to ensure everything is in place for their rollout.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
The ship has cold chain storage onboard, keeping the vaccines at the required temperature for the transit, and Tokelau health officials have developed their own programme to roll out the vaccine across the three atolls, to protect their communities.
It hasn't been all plain sailing for the New Zealand crew, however.
"The weather hasn't been entirely straightforward," said Davies, "but with the flexible capabilities provided by the helicopter and the ship's boats, we have been able to deliver the vaccines to all three atolls safely. This 5000 nautical mile journey is no small undertaking and demonstrates New Zealand's commitment to our neighbours in Tokelau."
The ship and crew were farewelled from Devonport last week by Associate Minister of Health and Foreign Affairs Aupito William Sio and the Administrator of Tokelau Jonathan King and will now continue its voyage for the second stage of the operation.
HMNZS Wellington will now go to Palmerston Island in the northern Cook Islands to deliver enough doses for the 40 eligible people there, before making a logistics stop in Rarotonga.
The ship is due back in New Zealand at the beginning of next month.