The Ministry of Health and Human Services will begin providing the Covid-19 vaccine for children aged six months to five years on Friday July 15, according to RMI Director of Public Health Dr. Frank Underwood. This follows approval of the vaccines for young children by the US Food and Drug Administration late last week, which then saw a unanimous ‘yes’ vote by the Centers for Disease Control on Saturday.
“The MOHHS Covid-19 vaccine task force convened a meeting Monday afternoon to review the FDA and CDC recommendation pertaining to Covid-19 vaccination for six months to five years,” Dr. Underwood told the Journal. “The MOHHS Immunization program has placed initial orders for both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines,” he said. The first order is for 500 doses of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for both Majuro and Ebeye, with these doses scheduled to arrive in the Marshall Islands next week. They also placed orders for more doses over the following weeks.
“However, before doses get into arms, the MOHHS needs to ensure all technical considerations have been accounted for,” Dr. Underwood said. “This includes staff familiarization and training. The vaccines need to be maintained at specific temperatures, which is different for both vaccines.
“Ultimately, these processes are to ensure all our clients get the right doses at recommended times. This period will also be used to raise awareness of these vaccines in the community.”
MOHHS understands that there will be questions on vaccine safety and efficacy and because of this, Dr. Underwood said: “We need to give parents and guardians an appropriate space to discuss these issues. The decision to receive these vaccines are voluntary and is through a process of informed consent.”
While the initial roll out of the vaccines for RMI’s youngest people will be in Majuro and Ebeye, Dr. Underwood said that as vaccine trips to the neighboring islands take place, “these newer vaccines will also be available.”
With this in mind, the Director said that MOHHS is encouraging people from the outer islands who plan to spend the summer in Majuro or Ebeye to take the opportunity to visit the vaccine clinics and complete their primary series of vaccines as well as boosters if eligible.
Dr. Underwood reports that the current national vaccination rates for people aged five years and above stands at 76 percent fully vaccinated and 19 percent partially, which means 95 percent of the population aged five years and above have received at least one dose dose. He added that “the rates for coverage among age groups 40 years and above is generally high, however, uptake in younger age groups has much room for improvement.”
He stressed that as the RMI community has remained Covid-19 free, the population has not acquired natural immunity against Covid and therefore it is important to get vaccinated. “While younger children and young adults are usually spared from the severe forms of Covid-19 in western countries, due to a higher prevalence of malnutrition and development of risk factors for NCDs at a younger age, there is great concern amongst the medical community here in the RMI that when Covid-19 becomes established in our communities unvaccinated infants and children as well as young adults could develop severe forms of the disease.”
Dr. Underwood said that vaccine hesitancy is a global phenomenon. “We trust giving parents and guardians ample information on vaccine safety and recommendations as well as addressing questions they may have will go a long way in ensuring issues which contribute towards vaccine hesitancy are addressed here in the islands. The MOHHS is partnering with both the CDC and UNICEF to ensure a safe roll out.”
In his final statement on Covid vaccines in general, Dr. Underwood said: “It is critical that we use the time that we remain Covid-19 free to best equip our families for any introduction of Covid into our community.”