Majuro sets vaccine pace

Tuna fishermen from purse seiners lined up at Delap Dock for their Covid vaccines the past two Fridays, as the Ministry of Health and Human Services continues its rollout of vaccines for fishermen. Photo: Wilmer Joel.

The Ministry of Health and Human Services administered 757 Covid vaccines for commercial fishing crews that use Majuro for transshipment from June through the end of August.

The vaccine program for fishermen was halted for two months after the initial rollout in June so Public Health nurses could focus on vaccinating outer island residents.

The Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority coordinated with the Ministry of Health, RMI EPA and other agencies to resume dockside vaccinations of fishermen in mid-August, a move to both to protect the crews that support a major source of income for the RMI and to bring more transshipment activity to Majuro.

The RMI is the only country in the Pacific to offer Covid vaccines to commercial fishermen. The enthusiasm that fishing companies have shown since the resumption of vaccinations on August 20 confirms the interest of fishermen and fishing companies to get their crews vaccinated.

This past Friday, for example, five purse seiners brought their crews onto Delap Dock in a coordinated, managed program for vaccination. A total of 167 crew out of a total of 171 on these five vessels got their shots, according to a MIMRA report issued Monday.

The last two Fridays of August resulted in nine purse seine vessels bringing 299 crew members to receive the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Authorities set up a secure area at one end of the main commercial dock, 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.

Fisheries Director Glen Joseph said with high demand for the vaccine program from fishing vessels, the program is expected to continue every Friday for the foreseeable future.

In other Covid news:
• The Marshall Islands aims to begin vaccinating teenagers against Covid-19 later this month using the US-approved Pfizer vaccine.

This will be the first time for the RMI to use Pfizer. Wanting to move ahead with vaccinating young people in the 12-17 age group, the Ministry of Health and Human Services will later this week receive its first batch of Pfizer vaccines from the US Centers for Disease Control.

“We should be vaccinating 12-17 year olds with Pfizer starting about the middle of this month,” said Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal. “We have already begun doing outreach by talking to students and parents at our schools’ PTA meetings.”

Pfizer has already been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use for ages 12 and above. The Modern and Johnson & Johnson brands that the RMI has used this year are only approved for 18 and up.

Because of more challenging logistical requirements to do with cold chain storage of the Pfizer vaccine, the ministry will likely use it only on Majuro and Ebeye, said Niedenthal.

• The RMI government’s medical referral and government office compound in Honolulu has gone into lockdown following two people testing positive for Covid.

Foreign Minister Casten Nemra told Nitijela Monday August 30 that two people tested positive for the delta variant, resulting in the facility going into lockdown.

Nemra advised Marshallese in Hawaii: “Don’t visit the RMI compound.”

He said others living at the facility were now being tested for Covid and contact tracing for the two positive individuals was ongoing. Once the testing is done, a more complete picture of the number of positive cases will be known, he indicated.

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