The Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) as the lead government agency working on the mitigation and control of the COVID-19 pandemic, and co-chair of the National Coordinating Committee for the COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Access Facility), would like to assure the public that work on acquiring COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved, and the preparations in country to receive and roll out COVAX is well underway and according to plan.
This statement is made in response to claims made by the office of the opposition group that health is far from ready in its preparedness to receive and roll out the vaccine due to delays with appointments of technical expertise to support the government in this regard.
On 7 December 2020 the Ministry working closely with its partners has submitted the country’s request to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a global health agency co-leading the COVAX facility which is a the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide on an equitable basis. Through the COVAX facility, participating eligible countries such as the Solomon Islands will receive an initial COVID-19 vaccine to cover 20 percent of its population free and then able to co-finance the remaining doses with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. In addition, the Government is also in bilateral talks with our donors and partners to secure additional supply of vaccine to increase the coverage of vaccination against COVID-19.
As part of the MHMS preparedness, a National Coordinating Committee (NCC) for COVAX chaired jointly by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Treasury has already been established, and had its first meeting in the first week of December 2020, where the Solomon Islands application for COVID-19 vaccines was reviewed and approved. Members of the NCC includes representatives from WHO, UNICEF, World Bank, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), People’s Republic of China, World Vision, Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA) and so forth with technical team comprising of technical staff from WHO and UNICEF.
The committee is responsible to;
o Review, analyze, guide and endorse technical and operational recommendations for COVAX shared by the Expanded Program of Immunization Technical Working Group.
o Review global level information (WHO, UNICEF,) related to Covid-19 vaccines and incorporate it into the planning and preparations as needed
o Guide the deployment plan with clear functions, responsibilities and deadlines
o Establish an operations room for coordination, information and communication
o Develop and implement accountability framework for vaccine deployment and use
o Report to higher-level authorities, when needed, and communicate with partners and the press
o Monitor progress using methods such as dashboard with key indicators, checklists
The nature of the cold chain requirement for the approved vaccines present operational challenges. In order to address these, a National Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19 vaccines has been developed and is constantly being revised to rollout vaccination once vaccines are approved and delivered. The National Immunization Program of the Ministry developed the COVID-19 vaccines application and deployment plans with continued technical assistance from the Ministry’s partners regularly interfacing through the technical working group on immunization. The COVAX deployment and vaccination plan outlines how the vaccine will be received, stored, distributed across the country, administered and the priority persons to receive the vaccine.
In terms of the resources and the technical expertise to support the national roll out of the COVAX, the National Coordinating Committee with the technical support team have mapped out the human resource and materials resource needs including the budgetary requirements for an effective rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. While doing so, strategies to prevent duplication of needed specialized technical expertise and overlap of responsibilities were employed.
Before the Christmas holidays, the Permanent Secretary MHMS approved the allocation of four additional human resource to the National Expanded Programme on Immunization unit to assist with COVID-19 vaccination preparation and implementation. In addition, further mapping of existing technical capacities within the Ministry and partners is continuing so that any new appointments of additional expertise are done accordingly to ensure work efficiency and effectiveness as well as sustainability. Thrust is to train and deploy the in-country expertise for sustainable operations under the technical expertise available in-country through the partners such as UNICEF, and the World Bank. These principles are also applied to proposed financial support from health partners to ensure that funds are allocated according to identified priorities, gaps in funding, and are targeted towards building local capacity etc.
As far as the issue of un-utilized funds amounting to USD 250,000 is concerned, we are working closely with the WHO and there has been no instance of forfeiting the money; rather the emphasis is on appropriate utilization of the existing funding sources to provide most cost-effective solutions to the challenges of COVID-19.
Thus, the MHMS remains grateful towards its donors and partners for both financial and technical support and the continued strong partnership and collaboration with health in the country’s efforts against COVID-19 and especially with current efforts to acquire and roll out COVID-19 vaccination.