Covid-19 vaccine has reached Antarctica | Polarjournal
In the Falkland Islands, the delivered vaccine is transferred to the British Antarctic Survey’s Twin Otter and flown to the Antarctic Peninsula. (Photo: BAS)

The AstraZeneca vaccine was flown from RAF Base Brize Norton via Senegal to the Falkland Islands. After transferring to a British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter, it continued southward before reaching the 23-strong staff at Rothera Station in Antarctica.

The 16,000 km journey across four continents completed the UK’s commitment to supply vaccines to all inhabited British Overseas Territories. The transport had to be carefully planned and executed to ensure that the perishable cargo would arrive in Antarctica in less than 92 hours to avoid spoilage of the vaccines. This involved keeping the doses in a special transport container at the required storage temperature of 2-8 °C.

Wendy Morton, UK Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas, said: “The transport of vaccines to the ends of the Earth shows our commitment to the people who live and work in the UK’s Overseas Territories.”

Rothera Station is the largest British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research station in Antarctica and is staffed year-round. The current wintering team consists of 23 scientists and technicians. It is used for biological, geological, and glacial research in the region, as well as a supply base for stations located in the interior of the mainland. (Photo: BAS)

The Twin Otter was the first aircraft to reach the remote Rothera research station after long 205 days. Together with the vaccine, fresh fruit and vegetables were also delivered from the Falklands.

Der Leiter der Rothera-Überwinterer, Matthew Phillips, fügte hinzu: “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.”

Arriving in Rothera, overwintering team doctor Klara Weaver receives the vaccine (image BAS/FCDO).

Keeping Antarctica Covid-free

Apart from a few cases at the Chilean base “Bernardo O’Higgins”, Antarctica has been Covid-free. The international research organizations are challenged and want it to stay that way. As the new summer season in Antarctica approaches, strict health protocols will again apply.

The crew of the new British polar ship, the RRS “Sir David Attenborough” will soon be quarantined before heading south with equipment and supplies next month.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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