Doctors and nurses: the first line of defence
Samoa owes so much to the health workers spearheading the country’s COVID-19 mass vaccination campaign.
COVID-19 was declared an outbreak in Wuhan, China on 31 December 2019.
Samoa’s previous Government administration immediately implemented stricter border control measures which included regular travel advisory and health screening for all incoming passengers.
Following the declaration of a global pandemic for COVID-19 on March 12, 2020, Samoa’s Government quickly moved to declare the state of emergency on March 21, 2020. This included the closing of borders to all travellers travelling to and from Samoa.
Since then, the Government of Samoa continues to prioritise and fully commit to preparation and preventive measures, through the activation of the national disaster management mechanisms such as the Disaster Advisory Council (D.A.C.). National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.) and the Health Emergency Operations Centre (H.E.O.C.).
In addition, the government through its relevant sectors including but not limited to Health, Finance, Community, Education and Agriculture were mobilised to ensure the country is prepared, ready and fully informed of what needs to be done to prevent COVID-19 from reaching our shores. It was not until March 24, 2020 that repatriation flights for Samoan citizens and residents that were stranded overseas came into effect.
In order to protect the people from this pandemic, Samoa registered with COVAX and submitted its vaccine request forms.
Samoa first received 24,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine under the COVAX Facility.
The COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccines first arrived in Samoa on an Air New Zealand plane on 9 April, 2021. Former Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi and former Health Minister Faimalotoa Kika Stowers became the first Samoans to be vaccinated.
Samoa’s mass vaccination started in April 2021 targeting those 18 years of age and above to be vaccinated, while those who are 85 and upwards will be given the chance to decide whether they want to be vaccinated.
With the country’s total population surpassing 200,000 people, vaccinators have been able to vaccinate more than a half of Samoa’s population in less than a year.
So far, Samoa’s national vaccination total count has reached 104,827 for those fully vaccinated as of 20 December, 2021 according to the Health Ministry figures.
A total of 117,020 people received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the COVID-19 virus which accounts to 96 per cent of the total eligible population with 60,306 are male and 56,714 are female.
However, 86 per cent of the eligible population have been fully vaccinated with 53,755 males and 51,072.
Months later, Samoa received its first doses of the Pfizer vaccines in October 2021 which then led to a nationwide rollout of the vaccines within all schools around the country.
Those eligible to be vaccinated are children from the ages of 12-17, pregnant mothers and lactating mothers.
The latest Health Ministry data reveals that 24,704 Samoans have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine while 17,887 are fully vaccinated with the Pfizer.
The teams arrive at 4am at the Health Ministry to prepare and by 7am the teams are dispersed and allocated to schools to ensure they can begin their work when children arrive for classes.
It has been a long and hard journey for the Health Ministry vaccination teams especially not having enough rest and still soldiering on with their sworn duties as health workers.
Some of the challenges faced by the teams include people hesitating or prolonging the receiving of their vaccines and only waiting until the last minute to get vaccinated.
The National Emergency Operation Centre and the Ministry of Health continue to urge people to get their immunisation and noting that neighbouring islands in the region continue to battle local outbreaks of the virus.
If Samoa does not reach vaccine coverage of 98 to 100 per cent of eligible people it will be difficult to open the country’s borders.
In one year, the health workers have conducted two mass vaccinations.
The National Controller of the National Emergency Operation Centre, Agafili Shem Leo said in a previous statement that the hope of achieving herd immunity for Samoa, and in our collective efforts to fortify our national response to the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19, the Government together with its partners will undertake a ‘Mass Vaccination Campaign.’
For the first mass vaccination campaign in September this year, the Ministry of Health at Moto’otua saw more than 60 M.O.H. vaccination teams mobilising as early as 6am on Thursday morning.
While two COVID-19 vaccines are still being rolled out, this does not stop the health workers from carrying out vaccinations for other diseases for babies and infants.