PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On November 30th, 2021, the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) received a briefing from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding a new COVID-19 variant of concern named Omicron. This release intends to describe what the Government knows about the variant, how the Government is responding to it, and the Government’s best advice for citizens at this time.
First reported in South Africa (though not necessarily originating from there) on November 24th, 2021, which aligned with a steep increase of COVID-19 infections in recent weeks there, the Omicron variant has already been detected globally in the Kingdom of Belgium, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other countries.
As of this release, it is unknown whether the Omicron variant is more transmissible (i.e. can spread more easily from person to person) compared to other variants, including the Delta variant which is otherwise presently responsible for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases globally. Preliminary evidence suggests that there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (i.e. persons who previously had been infected with COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with the Omicron variant), though it will require more time to confirm
Despite uncertainties, it is reasonable to assume that the currently available COVID-19 vaccines remain effective at their primary purpose of preventing death and lessening the risk of severe disease.
The COVID-19 vaccine mandate remains in effect, i.e. all FSM citizens residing in the FSM must take the COVID-19 vaccine. Persons who received their second dose of the Moderna vaccine six months ago or longer are encouraged to receive a booster dose. Persons who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine two months ago or longer are encouraged to receive a booster dose. There are enough vaccines in the FSM for every person to become fully vaccinated and to receive a booster dose.
Approximately 72% of all adults aged 18 years and up are fully vaccinated, although the Government estimates the real vaccination rate—based on population changes since the 2010 Census—may be closer to 79.8%.
The Pfizer vaccine for children aged five years and up is physically present in all FSM States and available for citizens in the States of Yap and Kosrae. The FSM National Government is advised that the States of Chuuk and Pohnpei intend to begin offering vaccines for children in January 2022.
After repatriation flights to Pohnpei on December 1st, Kosrae on December 6th, and Chuuk on December 15th, the Nation will temporarily pause on repatriation activities until January 2022. It is projected that by the time repatriation activities continue, the global community will know significantly more about the Omicron variant than is known today.
For the most part, repatriation protocols and processes will remain the same, inclusive of a 10-day pre-quarantine in Guam complete with two (2) PCR-based tests to determine if an individual is infected or not, to be followed by an in-country quarantine of between 7-14 days depending on the FSM State a person is being repatriated into (e.g. Pohnpei State mandates a minimum of 7 days, Chuuk State mandates a minimum of 14 days). In-country quarantine experiences also include multiple PCR-based tests. It is proven that currently, available PCR tests will detect the Omicron variant as COVID-19 positive.
Historically, only persons aged 18 and up must be fully vaccinated to be considered for a repatriation flight into the FSM. In 2022, this will change; all persons aged 5 and up will need to be fully vaccinated.
The FSM National Government continues to work diligently with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in preventing COVID-19 from entering the Nation, and in mitigating its impact in the event the virus appears in the community.
“The most important thing for any citizen or resident of this Paradise in Our Backyards to do,” said President Panuelo in a statement, “is to get vaccinated if you haven’t already, and to get a booster dose to strengthen your protection against COVID-19. I was recorded on video getting my first dose of the Moderna vaccine in December 2020, and my second dose in January of 2021. I intend to be recorded again when I take my booster dose on December 9th, 2021, in partnership with the United States Embassy Kolonia during their booster doses campaign drive. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and the COVID-19 vaccines are effective.”