The first leg of a 5,000 nautical mile trip to transport Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to one of the most remote places in the world is complete, with HMNZS Wellington successfully delivering the vaccine consignment to the Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu atolls of Tokelau.
Transporting the vaccines on behalf of the Ministry of Health, HMNZS Wellington and her 76 crew utilised a Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat and Seasprite helicopter to carry out contactless deliveries of the vaccine stock.
Tokelau is the last of the Realm countries to start its vaccine roll out, beginning today. Getting delicate vaccines to 1,140 eligible people so far from New Zealand with limited transport options has required detailed planning and complex problem solving in a multi-agency effort. The Ministry of Health, with the support of the NZ Defence Force and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been working in partnership with Tokelau officials to ensure everything is in place for their roll out.
The ship has cold chain storage onboard, keeping the vaccines at the required temperature for the transit, and Tokelau health officials have developed their own programme to roll out the vaccine across the three atolls, in order to protect their communities.
HMNZS Wellington Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Pip Davies said the weather had provided some challenges to the delivery.
“The weather hasn’t been entirely straightforward but with the flexible capabilities provided by both the helicopter and the ship’s boats, we have been able to deliver the vaccines to all three atolls safely. This 5000 nautical mile journey is no small undertaking and demonstrates New Zealand’s commitment to our neighbours in Tokelau.”
HMNZS Wellington will now transit to Palmerston Island in the Northern Cook Islands to deliver enough doses for the 40-strong eligible population there, before making a logistics stop in Rarotonga.
The ship is due back in New Zealand at the beginning of August.