U.S. health officials administer COVID-19 vaccines in Palau

U.S. health officials administer COVID-19 vaccines in Palau

Philip Regina/Task Force Oceania

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently worked with Palau’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the Pacific island nation’s people.

“We are a small contingent of a larger trauma critical care team consisting of 200 clinical and nonclinical personnel,” Phil Nix, commander of the HHS trauma critical care team, said in early May 2021. “Our primary mission is to respond to public health emergencies and natural disasters.”

Palau was one of the few countries with no reported cases of COVID-19 as of May 2021. For the HHS team, the mission was a departure from tasks executed during the previous year.

“We have been deploying to hot spots in the U.S. that have been stretched to their limits fighting COVID-19. Up until now, we have been seeing the sickest of the sick COVID-19 patients, many of whom were fighting for their lives on ventilators,” HHS surgeon Cecily Wang said. “Palau is uniquely COVID-19 free, and we want to ensure it stays that way,” she said. “We want to vaccinate as many people as possible to ensure the people of this country do not experience what we’ve seen during our missions in the U.S.”

The HHS team also shared knowledge with Palauan officials to help them prepare for future health emergencies, Wang said.

(Pictured: Stacy McCarthy, a nurse with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a Palauan resident.)

“When the COVID-19 pandemic started around January 2020, the MOH was able to stand up our emergency operations center (EOC) and started implementing point of entry screening to prevent the arrival of COVID-19 in Palau,” said Gaafar Uherbelau, EOC deputy incident commander. “We also canceled all flights from areas of concern. Suspending these flights prevented COVID-19 from reaching our shores. Implementing these measures took cooperation from all levels of government.

“We will always advise the strictest strategies to prevent the arrival and community transmission of COVID-19. We understand that restrictions have had an immense impact on the economy, but transmission and spread of COVID-19 would only further exacerbate current economic issues,” Uherbelau said.

“Palau is truly blessed to have such a good relationship with the U.S. … With the assistance of the U.S., we will be able to vaccinate 80% of the population.”