The BBC has reported that nine months after it was rolled out, the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine has finally reached the Antarctic. It was flown in, via the Falkland Islands, this week to immunize the 23 staff members who've been keeping the British Antarctic Survey, BAS, Rothera research base running through the polar winter.
Following the success of the previous austral summer research season, the Falkland Islands is once again positioned as the gateway and logistics support for important Antarctic science over the next six to nine months.
Rothera base is the most southerly dispatch yet for the jabs developed at Oxford University, and it involved a near 10,000-mile journey that began with a RAF Voyager flight from Brize Norton and included stopovers in Senegal and the Falklands.
Antarctica has been Covid-free and the international science agencies want to keep it that way. And as the new summer research season approaches, strict health protocols will again be in place.
For example, the crew of the UK's new polar ship, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, will shortly go into quarantine before they head south next month with equipment and supplies.
The doses flown to the Rothera research base had to be kept at their required 2-8C storage temperature in a special transport container.
Finally, a small Twin Otter plane which took off from the Falklands was used for the final leg into the BAS' Rothera base
A first dose of the AZ vaccine is now in the arms of the station's scientists, engineers and support staff, administered by the doctor on site. The second jab will be given in four weeks' time.
Rothera has essentially been in lockdown since March when only a core group of staff were retained on the continent to tough out the darkness and atrocious weather that are a feature of polar winters.
They'll now have some immunity when visitors begin to arrive for the summer research season.
People will start flying in from 20 October onwards, so the 'over-winterers' will have had at least one jab, explained John Eager, the head of polar operations at BAS.
But we aim still to provide extra assurance. And that means everyone that goes down to the Antarctic stations this year will be doing a 14-day quarantine pre-arrival in the Falklands. It's a real belt and braces approach, he told BBC News.
Rothera leader Matthew Phillips added: Having been entirely on our own for 205 days, through the Antarctic winter, there is always excitement around station in the days and weeks before the first plane arrives, which marks the end of winter. As well as seeing familiar faces return, we also get our first delivery of mail, as well the first fresh fruit and veg since the end of summer.
Having Covid vaccines flow in has made that an even more singular experience. Being able to vaccinate people will help keep the station population and Antarctica Covid-free. This puts us in a great position ahead of a busy summer on station and in the field.
This is the furthest south the AstraZeneca vaccine has reached. And it means all continents have now received at least some doses, as have all British Overseas Territories. These far-flung dispatches were organized by the not-for-profit international development organization, Crown Agents, on behalf of the Foreign Office.
We've been working since March to send the vaccines out, literally to the ends of the Earth,” said Crown Agents' CEO Fergus Drake.
There has been an only outbreak of Covid in Antarctica, back in December last year. A few military and maintenance staff developed symptoms at Chile's Bernardo O'Higgins research station, also on the Antarctic Peninsula. They were quickly evacuated and replaced by a Covid-free deployment.
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