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World How the UK has been getting jabs to remote territories

08:36  29 april  2021
08:36  29 april  2021 Source:   bbc.com

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When UK government ministers pledged to inoculate all British adults by the autumn, they may not have been thinking about people living in some of the world's most remote places. "St Helena is so remote we sent Napoleon to die there," the official quipped, noting that next week marks the 200th anniversary of the former French emperor's death in exile. But remoteness , he said, would not have been an excuse for inaction.

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When UK government ministers pledged to inoculate all British adults by the autumn, they may not have been thinking about people living in some of the world's most remote places.

a person in a military uniform © MoD

And yet, since early January, by plane, ship and - in one case - supermarket freezer truck, that's exactly what's been happening.

Officials say 250,000 vaccine doses have already been administered to adults in 11 of the 14 British Overseas Territories.

Some of those places, like Gibraltar, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, are easy to reach.

Others require epic journeys.

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A mission to supply the 200 citizens of the gloriously named Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, on the volcanic island of Tristan da Cunha, was a case in point.

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A UK grandmother has become the first person in the world to be given the Pfizer Covid-19 jab as part of a mass vaccination programme. Margaret Keenan, who turns 91 next week, said the injection she received at 06:31 GMT was the "best early birthday present". It was the first of 800,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that will be dispensed in the coming weeks. If that vaccine gets the green light from regulators, there will be a genuine hope the first few months of 2021 will see rapid progress in offering jabs to the most vulnerable people, so the UK can return to something closer to normality.

It comes as a TV advert is launched to encourage under-50s to get vaccinated. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the "great news" at being able to open up jabs to 44-year-olds came after "a huge few days for vaccinations". He added: "We'll keep working down the age range to make sure everybody can have the As well as 44-year-olds, people who are due to turn 44 by 1 July are also eligible to make an appointment, according to the NHS Covid vaccination booking website. The total number of vaccine doses given in the UK reached almost 46.3 million on Sunday, with a further 498,430 second doses

The island, in the middle of the South Atlantic, is described as the most remote permanent settlement on earth.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it has yet to record a single case of Covid-19, but with rudimentary facilities and its nearest neighbour more than 1,500 miles away, an outbreak on the island could have proved disastrous.

The Ministry of Defence says a six-day operation this month has successfully delivered enough Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the outcrop's adult population.

To get it there, an RAF Voyager aircraft flew 8,000 miles from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to the Falkland Islands, before handing off its precious cargo to HMS Forth, which then sailed 2,000 miles more to reach Tristan da Cunha.

map © MoD

It is the first time the Royal Navy has transported vaccines, with crew members tasked to keep a regular check on the specialised fridges used to store them.

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People in England are being vaccinated four times faster than new cases of the virus are being detected, NHS England's chief executive has said. Sir Simon Stevens told the BBC that 140 people a minute were now being given the jab , usually the first dose of two. Dr Rosie Shire from the Doctors' Association UK told the BBC that as well as sometimes getting six doses out of the five-dose Pfizer vials, they had also got 11 or 12 doses out of 10-dose AstraZeneca vials. But she said the uncertain dose count made it harder to know how many last-minute appointments to book in order to use up the

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An even longer journey began late on Wednesday evening to supply vaccines to the 47 residents of the Pitcairn Islands, on the other side of the world.

This time, the doses are being flown from Heathrow to Auckland, New Zealand. After a three-hour road trip to the port of Tauranga, the cargo will be transferred to the supply vessel Silver Supporter for a two-week journey to the archipelago, deep in the Southern Pacific.

Bryan Richmond of Crown Agents, which is working alongside the government to ensure all British Overseas Territories are reached, said this has been a hugely challenging global operation, involving shifting travel corridors and contingency plans for Covid outbreaks, tropical storms and grounded planes.

To say nothing of the need to keep vaccines at the correct temperature throughout their complex journeys.

"I think we built a new global supply chain from scratch," he said.

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The first people in the UK are set to receive a coronavirus jab on what has been dubbed "V-Day", as a mass vaccination programme begins. About 70 hospital hubs across the UK are gearing up to give the Pfizer/BioNTech jab to the over-80s and some health and care staff. But it is not yet known how long the immunity it provides lasts, or whether it stops people from passing the virus on to others. Clive Dix, deputy chair of the government's vaccine taskforce, said: "We may have to vaccinate every year like we do for the flu." But he said getting to this point was a "great achievement" as vaccine development

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a man wearing a military uniform © MoD

For government officials involved in the programme, it's clearly been a source of pride.

"It's not very often you get to do something as a dull, grey, boring civil servant in Whitehall that actually makes people universally happy," one senior FCDO official said, on condition of anonymity.

The vaccine rollout, he said, was "a potent symbol of what being an overseas territory means".

The 14 Overseas Territories, which also include Ascension Island, South Georgia and several Caribbean islands, are home to around 250,000 people, the vast majority of them British passport holders.

Some of them are a long way from anywhere.

"St Helena is so remote we sent Napoleon to die there," the official quipped, noting that next week marks the 200th anniversary of the former French emperor's death in exile.

But remoteness, he said, would not have been an excuse for inaction.

"It would have been inexplicable if we had not looked after our British communities around the world," he said.

a person standing in a kitchen © MoD

There was improvising along the way.

One Crown Agents driver was told to stay with his truck overnight when he found that the designated warehouse at a UK airport storage facility was closed.

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In the Turks and Caicos, a supermarket cold chain van was commandeered to get the vaccines to hospital.

And a pet dog was bumped off a British Airways flight to the Caribbean when it emerged that vaccines and pets can't be transported in the same hold.

Officials say they are more than halfway through the rollout. In the Caribbean, speed is of the essence.

"We're in a race against time to get people vaccinated before the hurricane season hits," the senior official said.

That means getting everyone vaccinated before June.

a large body of water with a mountain in the background: HMS Forth transported vaccines supplies in the South Atlantic © MoD HMS Forth transported vaccines supplies in the South Atlantic

This could be challenging. While some territories are moving fast - Gibraltar, the Falklands, St Helena and Ascension Island have all administered a dose to more than 90% of the adult population - others, especially in the Caribbean and western Atlantic, are lagging far behind.

Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands are both at around the 40% mark, due to high levels of vaccine hesitancy and the remoteness of some archipelagos.

In Turks and Caicos, public information campaigns have been launched in English, Spanish and Creole.

In Gibraltar, where almost 100 people have died and infections peaked over the new year period, the vaccine drive is almost over.

With new one new infection in the past fortnight, officials are hailing Gibraltar as an example of how well the vaccine is working.

Indians' desperate wait for Covid jab to get longer .
India is facing a severe shortage of vaccines amid a relentless second Covid wave. How did this happen?The country's very own Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's largest vaccine maker, was meant to supply most of the jabs as the country headed towards an ambitious target - covering 250 million people by July.

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