Marshalls vaccinates fishermen in Majuro

The Marshall Islands has launched Covid-19 vaccinations for commercial fishermen temporarily in port Majuro — possibly the first Pacific island to vaccinate foreign fishermen.

With the country vaccination programme nearing 80 percent completion for the two urban centres, and public health teams now conducting vaccinations for remote outer islands, the Ministry of Health and Human Services announced earlier in the month that it would begin offering the one-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine for fishermen.

The vast majority of commercial fishermen working both purse seine and longline vessels are Asian. On the locally flagged purse seiners, about 40 Marshallese work as crew.

“I think Majuro would be first to offer this in the Pacific,” said Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Director Glen Joseph. “Obviously it’s important.” 

The Marshall Islands used the Moderna brand two-shot vaccine for its two urban populations and has used the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine for a number of the remoter outer islands where getting airline flights and boats scheduled to meet the 28-day spacing for the two-shot Moderna vaccine is difficult.

Joseph put the Ministry of Health’s vaccine offer out to the fishing companies through their local agents this past week and they responded immediately with interest. Public health nurses worked at dockside to handle the vaccines.

The seaports, like the airports, are under strict Covid prevention protocols that do not allow anyone to come ashore except for beginning quarantine in government-approved facilities in Majuro and Kwajalein. Public health nurses handling the vaccinations were decked out in personal protection gear, and all fishing crews in the first group to be vaccinated wore masks and gloves.

The Marshall Islands has seen only one positive Covid case in an American base worker while he was in quarantine at Kwajalein last October. There was no community transmission and the Marshall Islands remains Covid-free, with its border closed to inbound travel since March 2020.

Over 50 fishermen were vaccinated on 09 June, with more vaccines expected to be dispensed as fishing vessels arrive into port Majuro to offload their tuna cargoes every few days.

Joseph confirmed the Ministry of Health’s policy that Covid vaccines are provided on a voluntary basis. “We look forward to this effort with the Ministry of Health and Human Services, and fully encourage our Marshall Islands-flagged vessels to take advantage of this opportunity, the sooner the better,” said Joseph in an email to agents of the more than 10 locally-flagged and based purse seiner vessels.

Public Health Director Dr Frank Underwood said in addition to scheduling Covid vaccines for fishing crews in an ongoing manner, they were working to get Covid information flyers translated into languages the crew can understand. Mandarin and Marshallese are the main languages for the local vessels.

Joseph said the initial vaccine outreach earlier this week focused on crews on purse seine vessels. “Longline (vessels) are in the works,” he said. There are an estimated 30 locally based longline vessels that use mainly Asian crews.