Race against time to vaccinate Vanuatu's population before borders open up

As Fiji heads towards re-opening its borders to international travellers, officials in COIVD-19 free Vanuatu are weighing up their options.

Vanuatu is locked down from international travellers but already P&O Cruises is accepting reservations for a May visit to Mystery Island in the country's south.

ABC Radio Australia reports the Director of Public Health Len Tarivonda is doubtful borders will even re-open by then.

He said people in the community on nearby Aneityum Island would first have to be vaccinated before cruise ships can visit.

“If 90 percent of the island population have already been vaccinated and are fully protected, and lots of those coming from cruise ships, you know, we'll have to provide evidence that they have also been fully vaccinated,” he said.

So far only 17 percent of Vanuatu’s population has been fully vaccinated and at that rate Dr Tarivonda believes borders will re-open sometime in 2022.

He said any COVID-19 infection in the country would have a severe impact on the community.

“We are worried that if the virus gets a foothold, obviously with a high rate of NCDs (non communicable diseases) and also the living conditions of people in communities, especially where there are...crowded population,” he said.

Vaccination teams have spread out across the country with roadside open-air clinics popping up daily in the capital to serve hundreds of doses.

Health authorities have carried out readiness exercises, practicing for the day community transmission begins.

At Vila Central Hospital which will be ground zero for the country’s first COVID-19 case, its director Sereana Natuman said preparations have gone well and gaps identified.

The business community too has been involved and Astrid Boulekone the general manager of the Chamber of Commerce sees it as a race against time.

“We're not talking about if the virus COVID-19 virus will be in Vanuatu we should be now talking about when COVID-19 will be actively hitting and reaching Vanuatu,” she said....