The Ministry of Health (MOH) has said that Palau could be receiving a vaccine for COVID-19 early next year, maybe as early as January 2021.
The BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine for coronavirus shocked nations around the globe on Monday of this week when the American manufacturer, Pfizer Inc., said that clinical trials have shown the vaccine to be over 90% effective in preventing the contraction of COIVD-19. If the vaccine receives emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it could be ready for distribution by the end of this month, with many countries already having made advance purchase agreements with Pfizer and BioNTech.
The MOH says that it aims to have 80% of the population of Palau vaccinated by May 2021.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to make initial distributions of the vaccine to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, where COVID remains a problem, hopefully before the end of the year, says MOH. The first-generation vaccine requires storage in temperatures below negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which would present a challenge for Palau. However, Pfizer says that it is already in the process of developing a second-generation vaccine in powder form, which could be stored in more manageable temperatures of negative 20 degrees, and could be ready in the first couple months of next year. This second-generation vaccine will be distributed to Palau, according to the CDC.
First priority distribution of the vaccine in Palau will likely go to health care workers, border control agencies, and law enforcement, while distributors of essential goods such as grocery store and pharmacy employees will likely be second priority, says the MOH.
The MOH says that the vaccine will not be mandatory for people to take.
Gaafar Uherbelau of the MOH has stressed that the availability of the vaccine will not mean that COVID is no longer a threat. It is expected to take some time to vaccinate the majority of people in Palau.
“This influences our planning in terms of reopening,” said Mr. Uherbelau at the Fourth Annual Small Business Forum on Thursday morning. “When do we start flights again: is it as soon as the vaccine arrives or as soon as we vaccinate 80 percent of the population, which is our target? This is something we’re looking at now.”
Mr. Uherbelau said that the MOH will be maintaining current quarantine and testing protocols for as long as it can, and that the government must be ready to declare a state of emergency as soon as a single positive case of COVID is detected in Palau.
The MOH has also identified an Alternative Care Site, where anyone with a confirmed case of COVID can be kept for isolated care, set apart from the hospital and the government quarantine sites.
Palau remains on an ever-shrinking list of countries which have remained COVID-free since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Marshall Islands, formerly one of the nations on this list, recorded its first two border cases last month, when two military personnel carrying the virus flew from Honolulu to the US military base on Kwajalein Atoll.
Meanwhile, American Samoa recorded its first three coronavirus cases on Monday, while Vanuatu recorded its first case on Wednesday. Although all of these cases are considered “border cases”, meaning they were caught in quarantine with no sign of community transmission, the MOH has said that the cases have “changed the way the countries operate”.

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