July 27, 2021

in the Tuamotus, military logistics to vaccinate the isolated populations of the atolls

French from the end of the world, the inhabitants of the Tuamotu archipelago, in French Polynesia, do not have the same access to healthcare as their compatriots overseas. Almost nobody was vaccinated there against Covid-19 until the intervention of the army and its fleet of ships, planes and helicopters. A restrictive logistics, which led the military to stagger the delivery of vaccine doses to the most isolated atolls.

The mission carried out by nurses for four days, between June 14 and 17, in the Tuamotus, falls within a schedule set for several weeks. On May 6, a Dauphin helicopter landed at Rapa, one of the most isolated islands in the world, in the Austral archipelago. With no airport runway and three days by sea from Tahiti, this island was the first to benefit from military support for the vaccination campaign. The other Austral Islands, such as the Marquesas and Society Islands, are well served by the local company Air Tahiti.

Story: In overseas territories, a timid start to the Covid-19 vaccination campaign

So there remained the Tuamotu archipelago: 76 atolls sometimes uninhabited, sometimes populated by a few dozen or hundreds of Polynesians. Rangiroa and Fakarava, the most famous, are in all good diving guides. Living off tourism, these two atolls are served several times a week by Air Tahiti, and residents who wish have been vaccinated by the doctor on duty. In most of the other atolls, however, no dose had been delivered so far. French Polynesia is a largely autonomous community: if defense and security remain sovereign competences, health is the responsibility of the Polynesian government.

A single dose and easier storage

Rear Admiral Jean-Mathieu Rey, commander of the Asia-Pacific zone, first offered the services of the Prairial. The ninety men of this French Navy surveillance frigate welcomed three local nurses on board. These civilians spent eleven days on board, disembarking each morning in a different atoll, thanks to a zodiac or an Alouette, a small military helicopter embarked on the Prairial.

Mission accomplished in Hereheretue, Vairaatea or Nukutavake: the nurses vaccinate a little more than half of the fifty inhabitants there. But disappointment in Vahitahi, where only two people show up. On this atoll, the mayor is not in favor of the vaccine and the health worker did not communicate the objective of the mission upstream. This failure demonstrates the importance of these health auxiliaries, the only health references in the least populated atolls.

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