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One Continent Hasn't Had Any COVID Vaccines. Until Now

AstraZeneca doses delivered to 2 dozen staffers at UK's Rothera Research Station in Antarctica
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2021 8:17 AM CDT
COVID Vaccines Reach Antarctica
In this handout photo, the Rothera Research Station, in Antarctica, is seen in April 2019.   (Robert Taylor/British Antarctic Survey via AP)

(Newser) – For all of the Southern Hemisphere's winter season, nearly two dozen staffers have been huddled together at the UK's Rothera Research Station in Antarctica, managing to avoid the coronavirus that continues to make its rounds through the rest of the world. This week, a delivery was made to continue to keep the scientists, engineers, and support staff there safe: doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which arrived after what the BBC calls a "mammoth trek" from England.

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"We're thrilled," tweeted Crown Agents, the nonprofit that helped organize the vaccine delivery, adding that the shipment is "the furthest south any British Covid-19 vaccine has travelled." The group shows a timeline of the vaccine's almost 10,000-mile journey, starting with the doses being packed in the north of England, then flown out of the Brize Norton airport in West Oxfordshire on a Royal Air Force tanker plane. From there, the aircraft made stops in Senegal and the Falkland Islands, where the vials were moved onto a smaller Twin Otter plane, which landed at the British Antarctic Survey's facility on Tuesday.

The vaccine vials were transported in special containers that kept them at their required chilly temperature: 35 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Medical Xpress notes the trip had to be completed in 92 hours to make sure the vaccines didn't spoil. The 23 staffers, who've been in winter lockdown at Rothera since March, have now all received their first jab of the two-dose vaccine. They get their next shot in four weeks, right before more researchers and other visitors start arriving in the warmer months with mail and fresh fruit and vegetables.

"Being able to vaccinate people will help keep the station population and Antarctica COVID-free," Matthew Phillips, who heads up the station over the winter, tells the BBC. "This puts us in a great position ahead of a busy summer." The outlet notes there's been one COVID outbreak in Antarctica, when three dozen people were infected in December 2020 at Chile's Bernardo O'Higgins research base. All were evacuated. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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