Tonga’s Princess Pilolevu Tuita was the first person to receive her first dose of the Covid-19 AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, followed by frontline workers on Tongatapu.
The Princess volunteered to take part along with her husband Lord Tuita and Prime Minister Dr Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa.
Acting CEO for Health Dr Reynold ‘Ofanoa also received his first shot.
“This is a historical day for Tonga, a day we had prayed for, a day of hope, as we launch the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine,” ‘Ofanoa said.
“We are truly humbled that HRH is to be first to be vaccinated, a support that is monumental.”
Today, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 136 million people contracted Covid-19 with 2.9 million lives lost world-wide, he said.
Tonga was fortunate to remain Covid-19 free, ‘Ofanoa said.
That had been achieved through cooperation during unprecedented times, which had strengthened relationships between the prime minister and other countries, church leaders, NGOs, relevant stakeholders and our people, he said.
“It is imperative that we prepare for a time should the pandemic appear on our shores. This Covid-19 vaccine rollout is a key milestone in protecting our people from the virus,” ‘Ofanoa said.
Tonga’s first 24,000 doses of the vaccine, which arrived on 31 March, were secured from the Covax facility, after negotiations led by the Minister of Health.
He acknowledged the WHO and UNICEF in facilitating the arrival of the doses. They were enough to vaccinate bout 20,000 people from the most vulnerable target group – who would receive their first dose over the coming weeks.
The Covax Facility was committed to providing further doses, he said.
A total of 43,200 doses from Covax will cover 20 percent of Tonga’s eligible population,
However, Tonga has around 70,000 people that are aged 18 years and over.
‘Ofanoa also reassured the public that latest evidence from three countries showed that the vaccine’s prevention rate against Covid-19 had increased from 70 to 76 percent after two doses.
“While AstraZeneca-Oxford will not provide 100 percent protection, it is highly effective in preventing severe Covid-19 diseases.
“We urge the public to continue practising prevention measures, such as handwashing and stay home if unwell with respiratory symptoms, among others.”
Many community leaders and foreign diplomats attended the roll-out of the vaccine.
Princess Pilolevu said there was a proverb that stated prevention was better than cure.
The nation also needed to follow the government’s Covid-19 plan, and that included being vaccinated, she said.
“Our country’s strength is working together and the message here today is that we can win if we work together because we are one, because we have this one chance, one life, we have only one family, one country and one God.”
Frontline workers and people vulnerable to the virus will be the first to receive the jab.
That included staff from the Ministry of Health, Tonga Police, His Majesty’s Armed Forces, Tonga Fire and Emergency Services, the ports and airport workers, and church leaders.
The vaccine roll-out will be managed by a National Technical Working Group working with the World Health Organization and UNICEF to support health workers and all stakeholders involved.
Next week the vaccination program will continue in various communities for priority groups, including those 45-years and over, and those who are over 18-years-old with non-communicable diseases and/or with disabilities.
The Ministry of Health has released a vaccination schedule for people who reside in Kolomotu’a and Kolofo’ou districts, and are in the priority group, at various venues from 19 – 23 April.
SOURCE: RNZ – ELEANOR GEE AND LINNY FOLAU (MATANGI TONGA)