Danish navy transports Covid vaccines to remote Greenland areas

Danish navy transports Covid vaccines to remote Greenland areas
File photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix
Denmark's military has started delivering Covid vaccines to remote settlements along Greenland's west coast, part of efforts to vaccinate isolated communities in the vast territory where logistics are complicated by extreme cold weather.

A naval patrol ship set out in mid-February to visit two settlements, fitted with a specialised refrigerator to store doses of the vaccine and transporting civilian medical staff to administer them at the request of Greenland’s health authorities.

The autonomous Danish territory’s 56,000 inhabitants are spread over some two million square kilometres, with a limited road network and the Arctic weather throwing up hurdles to air travel.

Greenland’s health authorities have barred entry to the territory until April 18th, with 31 cases of the infection and no deaths reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

Vaccinations started on January 4 and Greenland’s authorities asked the Danish military’s Joint Arctic command in the capital Nuuk to help with settlements unreachable by air or due to the weather.

Six percent of the territory’s population has been vaccinated so far, the head of Greenland’s health authority told broadcaster KNR.

“Remote locations are difficult to access because of sea ice, because of adverse weather conditions and because of the lack of airports and seaports,” Joint Arctic Command chief Dan Termansen told AFP.

“We have been asked to assist transporting vaccines and health personnel”.

Footage released by the military showed the Knud Rasmussen, a sleek, matt-grey naval patrol ship 61 metres (200 feet) long, pressing through chunks of sea ice by night.

After setting out from Nuuk for the southwestern coast, it approached Paamiut on February 16th.

Mooring in the settlement’s small, snow-covered port, surrounded by a handful of squat houses and buildings, the team disembarked down the gang plank and set up in a small nursing home, preparing and administering the Pfizer vaccine to some 233 people, mostly aged 65 and over.

The patrol boat then sailed to its second destination, the settlement of Qeqertarsuatsiaat, with a population of 170. 

Anchored in the icy waters off the group of brightly coloured buildings dotting the shoreline, the ship sent its team to vaccinate some 90 people before returning to Nuuk.

Termansen said the first stage of the mission had gone well and that the crew’s experience would be used to plan upcoming deliveries, which he said would continue until all remote areas had been reached

“The findings and experience gained from this mission we will adapt for further missions to the north. That will be a somewhat different mission because of sea ice and also adverse weather conditions,” he said.

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