Vaccines travel across ice to isolated expeditioners

By Jackson Graham

Monday November 1, 2021

Antarctic vaccinations
“This way to the vaccinations!” (AAP Image/Caroline Berdon)

As Australia’s vaccination rates cover three-quarters of the population over 16 years old, public sector workers in the most remote territories are rolling up their sleeves, skivvies and even thermals. 

Twenty-seven winter expeditioners at Australia’s Antarctic stations received a cargo of Pfizer vaccines late last week, in a complex operation supported by the department of health and the department of foreign affairs and trade.

An Airbus A319 arrived from Hobart to Wilkins Aerodrome on Thursday evening to deliver the doses to expeditioners at Casey Station at the freezing continent’s north. 

Once unloaded from the plane, the vaccines were kept in a frozen container and carted for four hours across the ice. 

Dr Jeff Ayton, the Australian Antarctic Division’s chief medical officer, said the delivery also included vaccination goods that would eventually reach the Davis and Mawson research stations later in the season. 

“This has been a great achievement made possible by months of careful planning,” Ayton said. 

Antarctica was the last continent in the world to be affected by COVID-19 when 36 Chileans tested positive in December last year

But strict COVID-19 prevention measures have kept Australia from recording any cases at its Antarctic stations.

While isolation has been a theme for many in lockdowns during the pandemic, for expeditioners at the stations isolation is a geographic reality that has cut them off from vaccines, too. 

These expeditioners left Australia before the vaccine was widely available and have been totally isolated since,” Ayton said. 

Those travelling south need to be fully vaccinated before transitioning on ships and planes, and expeditioners heading home need to be inoculated before rejoining communities. 

Federal environment minister Sussan Ley said the exercise was a reminder of the isolation Australia’s Antarctic expeditioners faced every year and the detailed planning required to support them.


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