Keep COVID-19 vaccination drive on priority list

By The Editorial Board 04 January 2022, 11:21PM

After a successful new year’s eve entertainment program and fireworks show last weekend, we can imagine how staff at the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) are wondering about the outlook for Samoa’s tourism industry this year.

And for an industry whose earnings in 2018 grew by 16.4 per cent to generate $493 million tala in earnings for the local economy that year, they know the heights that the sector can scale during peak periods, and would yearn for a return to those pre-COVID-19 pandemic days.

But the global economy continues to be at the mercy of the pandemic, with the new variants Delta and Omicron wreaking havoc on nations around the world including the region, increasing the rates of infection and pushing the global death toll past 5 million to further stifle attempts to revive national economies.

A number of Pacific nations have reopened their international borders, in a bid to kick start their economy-dependent tourism industries, but the results have been mixed. 

Fiji reopened its borders to international tourists on 1 December 2021 and is expecting 75,000 visitors between December and January, but 30 days after reopening its borders reported a third wave of coronavirus outbreaks. Fiji Tourism C.E.O. Brent Hill said recently that less than 1 per cent of tourists arriving in Fiji had COVID-19. Fijian authorities say 90.4 per cent of their target population have been fully vaccinated.

French Polynesia opened its borders to quarantine-free international travel to Tahiti in July 2020 and recorded over 17,000 cases since August 2020, which resulted in 126 deaths and led to the closure of the border in February 2021.

A tourism expert at New Zealand’s Massey University, Dr Regina Scheyvens, told the ABC in an interview that over 600 deaths were recorded in the French Polynesia outbreak and it was “important to balance health risks against economic imperative to reinstate international travel.”

So it makes sense that the S.T.A. Chief Executive Officer, Faamatuainu Lenatai Tuifua, has got his eyes on Samoa prioritising its vaccination drive before it can consider reopening its borders to international tourists.

And the stakeholders within the sector in Samoa are taking the lead in terms of all staff and employees of tourism operators getting fully vaccinated.

“Even the S.T.A. you can't work if you don't have an [vaccination] ID so by next year, we are hoping that you will enter with the [vaccination] card so that we will start it from here,” he said in an interview with the Samoa Observer.

“Because our sector relies on people coming from overseas, we have to do something, we have to start from ourselves.”

While we applaud Faamatuainu for his leadership in ensuring that the sector continues to take the lead in terms of the Government’s COVID-19 vaccination program, it should be emphasised that this should be a community-led effort as the tourism sector touches all facets of the community in Samoa.

The last update on Samoa’s total vaccination coverage provided by the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) through its Facebook page on 21 December 2021 shows 86 per cent or 104,827 of the country’s eligible population having been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. And 96 per cent or 117,020 of the eligible population have received only the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

As for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (which targets children 12-17 years of age as well as pregnant and lactating mothers) only 24,704 have been vaccinated for the first dose and 17,887 have been fully vaccinated.

It is obvious from the above M.O.H. data that the local health officials have already done a large part of the legwork in terms of the overall vaccination drive, but the program should remain a Government priority in the first half of this year to further push our national vaccination coverage closer to 100 per cent.

We believe it is possible to get our vaccination coverage to 100 per cent and this can be achieved through another two-day door-to-door mandatory vaccination rollout led by the M.O.H. and its various partners.

And while the economic benefits that would come with 100 per cent vaccination coverage such as tourism would be at the top of our minds, the vulnerable state of our health infrastructure on-island, and the protection of our hardworking health workers from the COVID-19 should also come into consideration.

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By The Editorial Board 04 January 2022, 11:21PM

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