Health and Education

Tonga is finalizing its National Deployment and Vaccination Plans to access CoViD-19 vaccines from the COVAX Facility.

COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

Tonga's Ministry of Health CEO, Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola said he expected that COVAX would soon announce the amount of vaccines participant countries will receive.

“What COVAX is doing now is assessing the readiness of the participant countries to be able to receive vaccines, safely store them, administer them and to monitor any adverse events following immunisation.”

The readiness details are to be included in Tonga's NDVP along with a cost estimate. Tonga has already submitted a draft NDVP to COVAX and recently held a workshop with development partners to gather their input to include in the final plan.

“Once our NDVP [deployment plan] is finalized, it will be tabled at our NEMC for consideration and submitted to Cabinet for endorsement.”

Funding for vaccines to be clarified

While COVAX donates part of the vaccine and also some of the cold chain (temperature-controlled) logistical requirements, Dr ‘Akau’ola said there will be a need for co-payment.

Countries who have joined COVAX will have to make a contribution "if they want vaccination coverage of their population to be increased”.

“This is where it is important to clarify with development partners - who have pledged assistance to Tonga - to confirm the specific part/s of the NDVP that they are willing to fund.”

Dr ‘Akau’ola said development partners who had seen Tonga’s NDVP had already indicated their willingness to support many activities in the plan.

Vaccine priority groups

Tonga’s plan is to prioritize frontline workers (those staff working/managing quarantine facilities, those required to respond to suspected cases, those working at port of entry and transporting repatriated passengers) to receive the vaccine first, followed by the elderly and those with chronic illnesses, explained Dr ‘Akau’ola.

The remaining adult population will follow. Children will be the last priority to be vaccinated.

COVAX’s initial plan was to roll out CoViD-19 vaccines to frontline workers only for participant countries before moving to the second priority in an equitable manner, so that no one is left behind.

However, because of Tonga’s small population “COVAX may treat us differently from those countries with larger populations”.

“We really hope that we may somehow get the opportunity to be provided with vaccines that can cover a relatively larger percentage of our population much sooner, rather than later,” said Dr 'Akau'ola.