Tonga, Kiribati and Fiji have received more than 100,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses from Japan over the past week.
The donated Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines are part of Japan’s recent commitment to distribute 3 million doses to Pacific Island nations by the end of the year.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga committed to the donation drive in July, at the Ninth Pacific Island Leaders Summit, having committed a further $800 million to the COVAX program a month prior. The COVAX program, run by the World Health Organization, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Gavi — a public-private partnership focused on vaccinations — works on ensuring equitable access to vaccinations, particularly in developing nations.
Fiji’s case numbers rose over the past few months, reaching a seven-day average of 1,000 cases per day in July; 468 have died, while there have been more than 45,000 cases of the virus. Tonga remains one of the few countries to not have any cases, having been locked down since March 2020, while Kiribati has reported just one case.
Kiribati and Fiji each received 56,000 doses of AstraZeneca, and Tonga received 36,800 doses. Fiji also received 100,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in early August, donated by New Zealand.
Tongan Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa was thankful for Japan’s continued support, which included previous help in bolstering precautionary measures, but “especially for delivering on their promise to support the security and socio-economic survival of our people.” Just over 27,000 Tongans had been fully vaccinated, while the country aimed to vaccinate all 63,000 eligible adults, Matangi Tonga Online reported.
“While our Kingdom is still Covid-free, we should vaccinate all the population over 18 years old as soon as possible,” said Japanese Ambassador Munenaga Kensaku.
Japan shelved 1.63 million doses of the Moderna vaccine on Thursday, one week following reports that some vials had been contaminated. Several Japanese companies cancelled vaccination plans for workers, though neither Moderna or Japan found any issues and the vaccine suspension was a precaution.
The European Medicines Agency, Europe’s drug regulator, is investigating, but Moderna vaccines continue to be produced. It was suspected Japan was the only nation to receive vaccines with a metallic contaminant.
Commentators have dubbed Japan’s several large donations “vaccine diplomacy,” as the country has donated millions of doses throughout Southeast Asia, as well as Taiwan.
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Thomas Heaton is a Li Center for Global Journalism Fellow. The position is supported by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Institute for Nonprofit News. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @thomasheaton.