Vaccines arrive, bringing hope with it

What welcome news to behold on the front page of the Monday edition of this newspaper – “24,000 Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses for Samoa”.

A long-awaited step towards the ultimate goal of returning to normal. After more than a year of living under a State of Emergency, any glimmer of hope is welcome.

With the country still coming to terms with the surprising results of our general election, the arrival of the vaccines have been low-key.

Once the election fever has waned, we expect the magnitude of what these doses represent will hit home.

The arrival of the vaccine signals a positive move in the right direction, and lets us dare to hope for acceleration in opening borders, or even a loosening of state of emergency restrictions.

We are all well aware of the state of our Tourism industry and our economy as a whole. What these first doses represent is a sliver of light on the horizon to normality.

To open the flight routes to New Zealand and Australia would be monumental for rebuilding and rejuvenating our local businesses.

And with a recent decision by the New Zealand Government to open a travel bubble to Australia, the likelihood that this could happen in the Pacific would only be bolstered by a vaccinated population.

Although the Kiwis and Aussies are not the first to introduce a travel bubble, that honour goes to Palau and Taiwan who began flights last week.

Palau was also the first in the region to begin vaccinations (as early as January) so far inoculating 50 per cent of their population, and on track to protect 80 per cent by June. 

The Palau/Taiwan case is a direct correlation to an advanced state of vaccinations, and one we should aspire to.

Across the world, vaccination programmes are ongoing, with Governments eager to put the brakes on any further growth in Covid-19 fatalities.

And with the World Health Organisation reporting around 135 million Covid-19 cases and just under 3 million deaths so far, their rollout of almost 670 million vaccine doses really did feel abstract until they started to reach our region. 

Australia has vaccinated over 1 million people already, while New Zealand has fully inoculated just under 20,000 citizens so far.  

Closer to home, our Tongan neighbours will begin their rollout on 15 April, looking to administer 24,000 doses and like Samoa, focus on the frontline workers first.

Fiji has started their vaccination programme, with frontliners such as Police, healthworkers and some Government officials getting the jab first. 

Last week Tuvalu received 4,800 vaccines under the Covax facility; enough doses to cover 20 per cent of their population.

In the last two days, the Solomon Islands took possession of the first batch of China’s Sinopharm vaccines delivered in the Pacific. The Solomon Islands Government said they would await approval by the World Health Organisation before utilizing the doses, something they expect to happen soon.

American Samoa has completed the double dose inoculation for just over 40 per cent of their population. 

As reported by W.H.O., Papua New Guinea has a fairly dismal rate of vaccinations (197 doses), considering the 8,000 plus confirmed cases of Covid-19 to date. 

Back on home soil, Samoa’s caretaker Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, confirmed that we were the sixth country in the Pacific to receive vaccinations via the Covax facility.

At a ceremony to officially receive the doses, he called for support from the community when health workers begin to administer vaccinations.

Samoa’s storied history of vaccinations is still a painful recent memory, so a smart, proactive approach is needed. The Government can’t afford to make another mistake, but it is also burdened with the responsibility of ensuring enough of our population is fully inoculated. 

Still, we acknowledge the work of the Government to secure these vaccines and prioritise first protection for our essential, frontline workers.

To their credit, Samoa has remained safe from the coronavirus for more than a year now, and to do so as the rest of the world has suffered immensely from loss of life is worth remembering as we enjoy social freedoms that have been revoked in many other countries across the globe.

Just imagine the difficulty of holding a national election with the threat of coronavirus in our community.

We do hope that there is full transparency on who will be selected to receive the doses, considering there are only enough for 12,000 people with this first batch. We are also hopeful that the Ministry of Health will be forthcoming with their rollout plan, and update on numbers of the population who have received their shots. 

You will note from a story in today’s newspaper, “Rival party leaders sign off on vaccine jab”, that both leaders of the main political parties - Human Rights Protection Party and Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi – have agreed to be vaccinated. 

It’s encouraging to see, that despite the current political tug-of-war, these leaders are thinking about the greater good.

While we welcome their comments, we are also mindful of the potential politicizing of the rollout. Neither party should use the administration of these inoculations to trade political jabs at their opponents.

The danger is not just a matter of political points, but a serious public health issue. 

Should these politicians use fear tactics, or cast doubt in the minds of the public about vaccines, there is a real threat to community support for the immunization programme.  

So a final word of advice from this newspaper – let your political games take a backseat to the greater good of ensuring our people are vaccinated and protected from Covid-19.

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