Tonga's Covid-19 vaccination programme starts this Thursday on the main island, Tongatapu.
The Minister of Health Dr 'Amelia Tu'ipulotu told Matangi Tonga that frontline workers will be the first to receive their shots at Falemasiva Hall.
The Ministry of Health has held a national campaign on radio and television to inform the public about the vaccine and its roll-out since the first 24,000 doses of the Covid-19 AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines arrived on March 31.
The Ministry expects to vaccinate around 2,200 front-line workers from April 15-17 including health officials, police, defence and those working on our borders, at the airport and ports, at Falemasiva in Havelu.
After the frontliners, the vaccine will roll-out to those most vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly and those suffering from NCDs at villages in Tongatapu, administered by various health teams.
Great meeting with ‘Amelia Afuha’amango Tu’ipulotu, Minister of Health , on the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife & #ClimateChange. I thanked her for the great work of nurses in and discussed @WHO's Initiative for Small Island Development States for #ClimateAction. pic.twitter.com/EXM5Ebsio0— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) February 10, 2020
A National Technical Working Group is also working closely with the World Health Organization and UNICEF to support health workers and all stakeholders involved.
The Health Minister said that Tonga is not new to immunisation and the Ministry in the past had great success due to communities co-operating.
"We have high capacity because we have delivered up to 1,000 immunizations a day," she said.
The Minister also reiterated that the WHO had approved this vaccine, after its experts ensured its safety and she asked for the public's support and cooperation.
Benefit outweighs risks
Meanwhile, in regards to international reports raising concerns over blood clots as possible side effects from this vaccine, the Ministry said they had worked very closely with COVAX, UNICEF and WHO and are confident in their reports.
Acting Health CEO Dr Reynold 'Ofanoa said, Government would not make any decision to bring in a vaccine that will do more bad then good to our people.
"We rely on the records from our international stakeholders that it is safe as we have worked closely with them and trust their procedures. Getting the vaccination is vital to our people's health because being vaccinated is our responsibility to not only protect ourselves but our family and people from the virus," he said.
Tonga border needs to open in future
In addition, Dr Veisinia Matoto-Vaha'i said this is the same vaccine that is being rolled out in New Zealand and Australia, and in priority groups at nursing homes.
She said there had been no evidence to date confirming that this vaccine caused blood clots, the term used in these reports was 'possible'.
"WHO also recommended for this vaccine to continue being rolled out because there are more benefits to gain than that of the risk," she said.