A cluster of islands in the Pacific Ocean that's one of the few places on Earth entirely free from Covid-19 could become one of the first countries vaccinated against the disease.
The Republic of Palau, an archipelago home to about 18,000 people, received its first shipment of the vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical company Moderna on Saturday. Vaccinations started the next day, Palau's Ministry of Health announced on Twitter.
The first shipment included 2,800 doses of the vaccine, which will be administered in two shots, 28 days apart. Health care workers, key officials and vulnerable groups will be among the first to receive the vaccine, according to the ministry's statement.
To date, Palau has not recorded a single coronavirus case or virus-related death, according to the World Health Organization.
In January, as the virus began to spread across Asia and the Pacific, Palau was among the first to implement stricter border controls. Its borders were entirely locked by March, and it began testing citizens for the virus by April. These measures were key to keeping Covid-19 out, Palau's ambassador to the UN said in May.
An independent nation in free association with Washington, Palau has access to the United States' mass Covid-19 vaccination program, known as Operation Warp Speed (OWS).
The archipelago covers an area of just 177 square miles (459 square kilometers) -- about a sixth of the size of Rhode Island, the smallest US state. That small size puts Palau in prime position to be among the first nations to be inoculated against Covid-19, according to the country's Incident Commander of the Ministry of Health, Ritter Udui.
"We are lucky to be in a position where we have access to vaccines through OWS, and our small size makes it easier for us to roll out the program," Udui said. "It's not compulsory to receive the vaccine, so our goal is to vaccinate about 80% of the population. We hope to achieve herd immunity (through the vaccination program)."
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