Islands move quickly on Covid-19 vaccine outreach

Three United States-affiliated countries in the north Pacific have launched aggressive Covid-19 vaccine programs, following receipt of thousands of doses from the US Centers for Disease Control.

On a per capita basis, the islands have higher vaccine rates than many states in the US, said the Marshall Islands Health Secretary in Majuro.

In the first 10 days since receiving a small number of doses to start, the Marshall Islands injected first vaccines to over 600 healthcare workers and front line government employees who work in sea and airports.

The US government is providing the Moderna brand Covid-19 vaccines to the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau.

The Marshall Islands and its two neighboring countries in the north that all share a "free association" relationship with the US are all moving ahead quickly with their vaccine programs, said Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal, who each week participates in a call involving health officials from all US-affiliated islands in the region as well as US authorities.

"The freely associated states have some of the highest vaccine rates compared to the United States," said Niedenthal.

"We take the disease seriously," he said.

Following the initial vaccines to healthcare and front line workers, a new delivery of 6,000 vaccines arrived in Majuro earlier this week.

They were immediately rolled out for local residents 60 years of age and older.

Hundreds of people walked into Majuro and Ebeye hospital to obtain the vaccine, said health officials.

More Covid vaccines were expected to arrive this weekend to boost the country's outreach program.

Starting Monday next week, Niedenthal said the vaccine will be offered to anyone 40 years and older in Majuro and Ebeye, the two urban centers in the Marshall Islands.

Public Health nurses will also start vaccinating next week the 1,000 Marshall Islanders who work for the US Army at the Kwajalein missile range.

Niedenthal indicated that the US government, which is providing the vaccines, is looking at usage rates in all states and US-affiliated islands.

"How quickly we use the vaccines determines the number we receive," he said.

The Moderna vaccine requires each person receive two doses 28 days apart.

Ultimately, said Niedenthal, "Our aim is to get a single-dose Covid vaccine."

A single dose Covid vaccine is under development by the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, and could be available in the coming few months, he said.

The two-shot Moderna brand vaccine is a challenge in the islands, where people are mobile and often leave Majuro or Ebeye for the remote outer islands, or can be difficult to find when it comes time for a second dose to given, Niedenthal said.

"Here it can be hard to track people," he said. "We do our best, but a single dose would be best."