The anti-COVID vaccine reaches the most remote places

After withstanding 75-kilometer (40-knot) winds and splashed by icy waters off the sea, several wet and shivering healthcare workers reached two islands in the North Atlantic, off the US state of Maine, in late 1990. last month to apply vaccines against the coronavirus.

When they hit land on Little Cranberry Island, population 65, the locals danced for joy.

“This is a historic day for the island,” said Kaitlyn Miller while singing with a friend “I’m not giving away my shot!” From the musical Hamilton.

All over the world medical personnel and authorities must go to great lengths and scramble to vaccinate residents of remote locations. You have to go by boat to islands, on snowmobiles to snowy peaks and by river to the most remote locations in the Brazilian Amazon. Drones, motorcycles, elephants, horses and camels are also used to vaccinate everyone, according to Robin Nandy, director of UNICEF’s immunization unit.

“This is unprecedented. We are trying to get new vaccines to every country in the world in the same year, ”Nandy said.

Although the distribution of vaccines has encountered obstacles in much of the world and there are many sites that are still waiting for the first doses, great efforts are made to inoculate residents in distant places, which are difficult to reach, which in general They have not recorded COVID-19 cases but they would not be equipped to deal with a virus outbreak.

“It’s a race against the clock,” said Sharon Daley, medical director of the Maine Seacoast Mission, which is vaccinating residents of seven islands off the coast of Maine.

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In the rough, roadless terrain of southwestern Alaska, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. chartered planes and used snowmobiles to deliver vaccines to four dozen very distant communities.

The vaccination campaign began in December, when temperatures were between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius below zero (minus 20 to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit) and medical personnel had to make sure that the vaccine did not freeze in the syringe needles. Despite the difficulties, thousands of doses were delivered to 47 communities in one month. In one town, residents were distraught because COVID killed one person and sickened two others.

“People are desperate for the vaccine here, it was very exciting to be able to bring it to them and protect it,” said Dr. Ellen Hodges, Chief of Staff for the Health Corporation.

In India, medical personnel recently walked to the village of Bahakajari, along the mighty Brahmaputra River, in a lost corner of the northeastern state of Assam, to begin vaccinating its nearly 9,000 residents.

The vaccines were sent first to the nearest city, Morigaon, from there to make the last leg by car. Residents of a nearby island were taken by boat to a health center and women in long sparkly dresses and men stood in line to get vaccinated. By the end of the day, 67 people had received the vaccine. The authorities hoped to be able to vaccinate 800 people in the following three days.

In Brazil, it was necessary to travel hours in light planes and boats to reach remote communities in the Amazon. As in other isolated sites, it is important to bring the vaccine to these localities because most jungle communities have very basic medical facilities and are not equipped to treat severe cases of COVID-19.

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As is often the case, medical personnel must first convince some that the vaccine is safe and that it is important to get immunized.

“The doubts about the vaccine are a complex issue. It is important to provide accurate information, ”commented a spokesperson for the GAVI initiative, which delivers vaccines to poor countries.

Residents of the islands off Maine breathed a sigh of relief when they began receiving the vaccinations. Getting to the mainland takes a whole day, at best. Bad weather can delay mail ferries and boats. Some locals cannot make the trip for health reasons.

“You are very isolated on the islands. The isolation is attractive, but it also poses serious challenges, ”said John Zavodny, president of the Seacoast Mission.

Recently, it was too windy to use the mission vessel, which has the required medical equipment, so they appealed to smaller boats. A lobster fishing boat was also employed for the short trip between Little and Great Carnberry Islands.

The islanders are used to isolation, but last winter was particularly intense and it was not possible to carry out the usual festivities due to the coronavirus.

Vaccines bring hope to be able to return to a more normal life.

“We’re excited,” said Lindsay Eysnogle, an island elementary school teacher who teaches five students. “This is a great relief. We are not used to so much isolation ”.


Associated Press reporter Mark Thiessen (Anchorage, Alaska) and photographer Anupam Nath (Bahakajari, India) collaborated in this dispatch.

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