It is a new year, and living here in Solomon Islands, we have much to be thankful for. We all learnt important lessons from the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. But the challenges are far from over. This pandemic is affecting us all, but we can rise out of this by working together.

Just like you, I want life to return to normal. I can’t wait to welcome overseas visitors and tourists here in Solomon Islands including my own children, seeing that boost your economy, jobs and society, helping us all get back on our feet.

I was inspired to see how well the government and people of Solomon Islands responded to keep the virus out.

There is no doubt this has come at a big cost to your people, businesses and economy. But it was essential to limit the impacts of COVID- 19 and the suffering we are seeing elsewhere in the world.

Vaccines offer hope for borders – and economies – to re-open, when the time is right. The safety and efficacy of the vaccines is crucial.

And this is why Australia’s Pacific vaccine support is being coordinated in close partnership across the Pacific, and here in Solomon Islands. Australia is working through our world-leading institutions such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure that any vaccine we help to bring into Solomon Islands is safe.

We should not underestimate the logistical challenges of rapid, mass immunisation anywhere in the world. To address this we have offered technical support to the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) to help prepare for the roll-out of the immunisations across Solomon Islands. We stand ready to assist.

As well as completing regulatory assessments of prospective vaccines, Solomon Islands continues to develop policies on priority populations and establish distribution arrangements. Strengthened surveillance systems to monitor vaccine coverage and safety; public information and education campaigns; and training and mobilising healthcare and allied workers are essential elements for a successful vaccine programme and implementation.

We are prioritising navigating these challenges with you, as we navigate our own in Australia. Your recovery is our recovery. Our shared future relies on a stable, prosperous and secure region, with health systems that have the strength to withstand this global pandemic, as well as the next. Restoring more regular and open transport links we can do so safely and effectively is vital.

Australia has committed $AUD 500 million to help countries in the Pacific and Southeast Asia procure and distribute vaccines. In Solomon Islands we have committed $SBD 85 million ($AUD 14 million) to prepare for and roll-out a mass vaccination campaign.

This funding will provide COVID-19 vaccine coverage for the remainder of the population above what will be provided through the COVAX facility. Australia has also committed $AUD 80 million the multilateral COVAX Facility’s Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for developing countries.

Australia’s vaccine commitment extends our broader support to Solomon Islands in responding to COVID-19.

Through our Health Sector Support Program, we have funded the upgrade of the National Referral Hospital (NRH) molecular laboratory, the purchase of equipment to enable COVID-19 testing, and the construction of a temporary quarantine facility at Henderson Airport.

We are currently in discussion with MHMS on work to further expand the NRH molecular laboratory to increase its testing capacity. Over 2020, Australia also provided COVID-19 grants to all provincial health services to procure vehicles and OBMs, as well as resources for training, community awareness and surveillance activities.

We all want this pandemic to be over as quickly as possible, and vaccines are key to that. You can be confident that any vaccine Australia shares with Solomon Islands will meet the highest international safety and efficacy standards. In partnership with you, we will provide the support and assistance to ensure this vaccine is distributed effectively across Solomon Islands.

That’s what neighbours and family do for each other. Because together we are stronger, and together we will recover and prosper.