KLM transports first vaccines to islands

The first batch of coronavirus COVID-19 vacci­nations for the Caribbean part of the kingdom left on a Royal Dutch Airlines KLM flight from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to Bonaire and Aruba on Tuesday.

This is the start of a series of transports to the Dutch Carib­bean islands. Today, Wednesday, the first batch of vaccinations for Curacao will be transported, fol­lowed by the first batch for St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba this Friday. All transports will take place on KLM.

The first batch for Bonaire and Aruba was loaded on board a Boeing 777 Tues­day morning in the presence of Dutch State Secretary of Public Health, Welfare and Sport Paul Blokhuis and KLM President-director Pi­eter Elbers. Flight KL779 was to arrive in Bonaire on Tuesday afternoon, unload part of the first batch, and then continue on to Aruba to drop off the remaining part.

The first batch of BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines arrived in Aru­ba on Tuesday afternoon. Present at the airport to witness the arrival were Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes (left) and Minister of Public Health Dangui Oduber (second from left). Others in the photo are the KLM pilot (centre) and two officials. (Aruba government photo)

Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and St. Maarten will receive the BioNTech/Pfizer vac­cine, which has to be stored at a temperature between -70 and -80 degrees Celsius (C). With the BioNTech/ Pfizer vaccine, healthcare personnel and persons ages 60 and over will be vaccinated first. No specific time-frame has been set as yet for the vaccination of persons 18 to 60 residing in Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and St. Maarten.

St. Eustatius and Saba will receive enough Moderna vaccines — stored at -20C ­to vaccinate the entire adult population. In Saba, the vast majority of the adult popula­tion — close to 1,200 people — have pre-registered for the vaccine. The two smallest is­lands will receive the second batch of vaccines a month later.

Vaccination on most is­lands, aside from Aruba, is slated to start on Monday, February 22. All logistics have been prepared. Aruba will start administering the vaccinations from today, Wednesday, starting with medical and healthcare personnel, residents of the elderly homes and persons ages 60 and over. The first vaccinations will be given in Noord. So far, more than 10,000 Arubans have pre­registered for the vaccina­tion.

Aruba Minister of Public Health Dangui Oduber was elated that Aruba received the first batch. “Today [Tues­day — Ed.] is an important day for the country Aruba. I want to thank God for liv­ing in Aruba and that we are part of the Dutch Kingdom which gave us access to these vaccines. We want to thank State Secretary Blokhuis and Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the assistance they offered to Aruba to receive these vaccines according to the agreement on February 16,” he said.

Aruba received 11,700 BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines. “We are especially grate­ful seeing the worldwide shortage of vaccines,” said Oduber, who noted that it was important to see things in perspective. He said that on Monday, Colombia, a country with population of millions, received 50,000 BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines, while Aruba with no more than 100,000 inhabitants, received 11,700 vaccines.

“We need to be content and grateful, especially towards the Dutch government.”

In total, the Netherlands will send 341,300 vaccines to the Dutch Caribbean in the coming months. “Many per­sons have worked for a year to get the coronavirus under control as much as possible in the Caribbean part of the kingdom. The first batch of vaccines that the islands re­ceive this week is hopefully a turning point on the way to the end of the crisis,” said State Secretary Blokhuis.

“The arrival of the COV­ID-19 vaccine is good news for everyone. It brings us closer to the end of the pan­demic and a deep crisis in which we have been world­wide for a year. With our cargo division we have pre­pared in the past months for a worldwide fast and secure transport of vaccines,” said Elbers.

“Today’s [Tuesday’s — Ed.] transport is special because this is the first KLM flight in a series of flights to Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten with the vaccines on board. KLM has a long, special history of coopera­tion with the islands, which has created a warm bond. Also, the Caribbean part of the kingdom has it hard and we are glad and proud to be of value to the islands’ resi­dents,” said Elbers.

It was explained in the KLM press release that the most important objective is to safeguard the varying temperatures of the vac­cines, ranging from 2C to 8C, down to -20C and -70C to -80C, during the entire process of transport.

The BioNTech/Pfizer vac­cines that went to Bonaire and Aruba on Tuesday were packed with dry ice, which keeps the vaccines frozen for multiple days if the pack­ages are kept unopened in an atmosphere between 2C and 25C. Immediately after arrival in Bonaire and Aru­ba, the vaccines are stored in a controlled atmosphere. The freight division of Air France KLM Martinair Car­go handles more than 80,000 pharmaceutical transports per year and is highly expe­rienced with the transport of temperature-controlled medications. The distribu­tion of the COVID-19 vac­cines involves very specific challenges with regard to transport and safety. A spe­cial process was developed for fast, reliable and safe distribution.

The Daily Herald.

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