Dutch State Secretary of Public Health, Welfare and Sport Paul Blokhuis (left) and KLM President-director Pieter Elbers (right) were present to see the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines off on the KLM flight to Bonaire and Aruba on Tuesday. (KLM photo)
SCHIPHOL--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 Curaçao 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.
Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao 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 timeframe has been set as yet for the vaccination of persons 18 to 60 residing in Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao 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 pre-registered 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. “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, Curaçao 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 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)