Amid the rise of what seem to be several prospects of a successful COVID vaccine, Palau has opted to leave the COVAX Facility. Instead, Palau hopes to receive enough vaccines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to vaccinate 80percent of its population by May of this year, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
The MOH has said that Palau could be receiving vaccines by as early as January. Although no vaccines have yet achieved regulatory clearance, both the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are applying for emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with clinical trials showing over 90 percent effectiveness from both. Mass shipments are already exporting vaccines from the US in anticipation of FDA clearance.
Palau, which previously indicated that it would be part of the COVAX Facility, has decided that it will no longer be participating in the initiative, and will instead rely solely on the CDC for vaccine access, according to the MOH.
The COVAX Facility is an initiative backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, composed of 170 countries, which aims to make a COVID vaccine available to developing and under-developed countries. However, Palau, which is considered a “high income” country among the list of recipients, would have to pay for the vaccine, while countries with lower average incomes such as the Federated States of Micronesia and the Solomon Islands would have access to vaccines from funding given by donor countries. The timeline for vaccine distribution by the COVAX Facility is projected to be towards the end of 2021.
However, the CDC is allegedly working to provide free vaccines to Palau much sooner, says the MOH.
The MOH is already working with the CDC to develop plans for distribution by priority groups among the population of Palau, with first priority going to frontliners such as public healthcare providers and emergency service personnel.
Palau is one of the six countries which have remained free of COVID since the start of the pandemic, the others being Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Tavula, and Tonga, all Pacific island nations. A number of Pacific countries, such as the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, American Samoa, and Samoa, have experienced their first cases of COVID within the past two months, although many of these cases are considered “border cases”, with no sign of community transmission.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which seem to be the frontrunners of the COVID vaccine race, present the challenge of needing to be kept in ultra-cold storage, with the Pfizer vaccine having to be kept in temperatures of negative 70 degrees Celsius. The Moderna vaccine also must be kept in cold storage, but at a more manageable temperature of negative 20 degrees. More recently, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been proven to be around 70percent effective in clinical trials, has the added benefit of being able to be stored in regular refrigeration temperatures.

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