Fishermen line up for shots

Three commercial tuna fishermen receive Covid vaccine shots August 20 in a dockside facility specially set up to vaccine fishing vessel crews. Photo: Caleb Joseph.
Three commercial tuna fishermen receive Covid vaccine shots August 20 in a dockside facility specially set up to vaccine fishing vessel crews. Photo: Caleb Joseph.

Last Friday’s resumption of Covid-19 vaccines for tuna boat fishermen “went smooth as planned,” according to MIMRA.

The fisheries authority together with Ministry of Health and Human Services and the Ports Authority organized the re-start of the vaccine program for fishermen that was started in June, and then paused so public health teams could concentrate efforts on remote outer islands.

On August 20, a total of 132 fishermen from four purse seiners were vaccinated. Fridays are now designated days for vaccination of commercial fishermen, said Dr. Frank Underwood, director of Public Health.

“Overall, the vaccination program went smooth as planned,” said MIMRA in a report on the event. “Great communication and coordination with agents and MOHHS in organizing crews to receive the vaccine.”

Three vessels represented by KMI brought their crews to the dock for an organized vaccine set up Friday afternoon. These were Nauru and Kiribati-flagged purse seiners. Meanwhile, Pan Pacific Foods brought in the crew of the Lomalo, one of 11 RMI-flagged purse seiners.
Officials had set up the secure area the day before, with stations for fishermen to wait for their shots, to receive their shots, and to wait for a 10-minute observation period afterward prior to being allowed to return to their vessels. Three public health nurses provided the immunizations from behind plexiglass dividers that had a small sliding window big enough for the person to place their arm next to it to receive the shot. Nurses employed the Johnson & Johnson brand vaccine as this is a one-shot vaccine.

“They are already lining up for vaccines this Friday,” said MIMRA Director Glen Joseph Monday this week. He said four boats are requesting their crews to be vaccinated later this week.

In other Covid news:

The RMI Labor Division said this week that it is hiring staff for a new fraud-prevention office and intends to investigate reports of fraud in the US-provided unemployment assistance program ongoing in the Marshall Islands.

The Labor Division has managed the US-funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program since July 2020, issuing over $6 million to 496 people. The US government has provided $150,000 to hire three staff for an Integrity Office, a manager and two investigators.

“With the continuation of the program, there have been several fraud cases that have been brought to the attention of the Division,” said the Labor Division in a statement.

The RMI government came under pressure from local government mayors this week who are pressing the national government to return to 14-quarantine rules in Hawaii and end use of the Arrak facility for repatriation due to fear of the highly contagious delta variant of Covid.

“Majuro landowners and residents have approached and met me on the streets of Majuro and in meetings to plea and appeal to me that the Majuro Quarantine Site in Arrak must be closed immediately and the repatriation must only be taken place in Kwajalein,” said Majuro Mayor Ladie Jack in a letter Monday to President David Kabua. He said people feared the delta variant of Covid.

The Marshall Islands Mayors Association also lodged an appeal Tuesday with the RMI’s National Disaster Committee to return to the 14-day quarantine requirement in Honolulu for people coming to RMI.

“Palau was put on edge over the weekend as the Ministry of Health and Human Services announced the country’s fist active cases of Covid-19,” said the lead story in Monday’s Tia Belau newspaper. “This comes after more than a year of keeping the virus out of its borders.” The ministry confirmed its first two Covid positive people August 20. The two people were reported to be Palauan citizens who flew into Palau the previous Sunday, August 15.

They tested negative for Covid three days prior to leaving Guam, said the Ministry of Health and Human Services. But, according to Tia Belau, they were not subject to quarantine and were in the community from their arrival date of August 15 until they tested positive on their fifth day back in Palau. The two were also fully vaccinated, according to Tia Belau. They and their 24 contacts have been quarantined.

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