The Ministry of Health (MOH) has said that Palau is on track to receive 2,800 doses of COVID-19 vaccines before the year’s end.
Gaafar Uherbelau, the Emergency Operations Center Deputy Incident Commander of the MOH, said that, if everything moves quickly, Palau can expect to receive doses of the vaccine by around December 26, and may be administering vaccines by January 11 or earlier.
The first batch of vaccines, which require two doses administered 28 days apart in order to be effective, would be enough to vaccinate 1,400 people in Palau. Mr. Uherbelau said that first priority will be given to healthcare workers, frontline workers, government workers, people 18 years and older with underlying conditions, and people 65 years or older, who are considered most at-risk from the virus.
The MOH has previously said that it hopes to have at least 80 percent of Palau’s population vaccinated by May, a target which it hopes to achieve before fully reopening borders for Palau. While taking the vaccine will not be mandatory, President Remengesau has expressed the importance that people have faith in the reliability of the vaccine, and that taking it will save lives.
Palau will be receiving doses of the vaccine on a monthly basis through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the quantity of the vaccine that will be administered may change from month to month, the MOH hopes to receive at least 30,000 doses by the end of April, enough to vaccinate 15,000 people, roughly 80 percent of the population.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorization for the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine for coronavirus on December 11, and for the Moderna vaccine on December 18, allowing the two vaccines to be distributed across the US, its territories, and the Freely Associated States. Around 3 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which has proven to be 95 percent effective in clinical trials, are being shipped in the US and are ready to be administered to healthcare workers. The US has also agreed to purchase 200 million doses of the Moderna vaccine in advance.
The Pfizer vaccine previously seemed to present a challenge to Palau, requiring ultra-cold storage of negative 70 degrees Celsius. The MOH originally indicated to Operation Warp Speed (OWS), a public-private partnership between the US Government and numerous vaccine manufacturers, that it wanted to receive doses of the Moderna vaccine instead, which has demonstrated a similar effectiveness to the Pfizer vaccine and requires a storage of a more manageable negative 20 degrees.
Mr. Uherbelau, however, has said that the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has donated an ultra-cold freezer to Palau, allowing it to properly store the Pfizer vaccine as well.
The MOH has stressed that Palau needs to be cautious about relaxing restrictions on quarantine, a responsibility which will be passed to the incoming administration.
“We want to have as many people vaccinated [as possible] before we fully reopen our borders,” said Mr. Uherbelau.

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