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The confusion that is vaccination in PNG

Beatable
Healthcare worker at Rumginae Hospital in the North Fly District of Western Province (United Nations)

KEITH JACKSON

NOOSA – Papua New Guinea has registered nearly 18,000 Covid infections and is approaching 200 deaths but medical experts say official statistics are likely to be highly inaccurate.

This is because of unidentified deaths, sick people not seeking treatment, low levels of testing, illness and deaths unreported or attributed to other causes and poor data gathering.

The available figures dramatically underestimate the severity of Covid’s impact in a country where fewer than 100,000 people have been vaccinated, much less than one percent of the population, and complacency is said to have set in even among health workers.

Capture1The problem is intensified by many medical practitioners, teachers and other educated people propagating misinformation.

PNG went through much of last year with low case numbers.

It is possible that a contributing factor was PNG’s young population, which may have partially insulated the country the crisis occurring earlier.

But it also seems likely this made people complacent, or believing the falsehood that Papua New Guineans possess some 'special' resistance to Covid.

But the Delta variant, which has been in PNG since a seafarer unwittingly transmitted it in late July, could be more dangerous to young people, and PNG is now experiencing an upsurge in cases.

302 400 Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine arrives from the USA (US Department of State)
302,400 Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccines arrive from the USA (US Department of State)

While earlier strains of the virus were most deadly among the elderly, Professor Jason Kovacic, director of Sydney's Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, says Delta could be putting young, healthy people at greater risk of fatal heart complications.

“We're certainly seeing a few more cases of cardiac complications in younger people from Delta,” Dr Kovaviv said.

The authoritative Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA report a “very high level” of Covid in PNG and advise people to avoid travelling to the country.

CDC says even fully vaccinated people may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid there.

The United Nations has referred to PNG’s Covid outbreak as “devastating” and says “people’s resistance to Covid prevention is a deadly risk”.

Capture2The UN notes that a majority of people in remote areas are ignorant of the virus and many other people do not treat it seriously enough.

Meanwhile, the health system is stretched to breaking point and few people follow public health precautions.

On Monday six cases were recorded at the national pandemic control centre - Covid's tentacles reaching into the heart of the fight against the disease.

PNG has been receiving a steady flow of vaccines in recent months.

But the vaccination rate is very low, and logistics remains a problem - recently more than 130,000 vaccines expired and could not be used.

A man receives Chinese vaccine at Port Moresby General Hospital
A man receives one of the two Chinese vaccines at Port Moresby General Hospital (Embassy of China in PNG)

Squabbling between Australia and China about vaccine delivery has only exacerbated an already high level of confusion about vaccination.

As more donations of vaccine arrive from various sources – China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm, New Zealand and Australia’s AstraZeneca, the USA’s single dose Johnson & Johnson, and COVAX’s SII-AstraZeneca (Covishield) version – this may be further adding to the confusion that already exists.

The Lowy Institute has said that PNG’s National Department of Health needs to strengthen its vaccination outreach programs and focus on educating and empowering local health care workers and communities to get vaccinated and stop the spread of misinformation.

Comments

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Johnny Blades

Dr Daoni Esorom laid out the new measures for those working at the control centre: "Everyone working at the NCC must have at least their first vaccine dose by August 31. Those not vaccinated will be required to take a Covid-19 test every three days in order to provide ongoing reassurance that they do not pose a risk to their fellow workers, particularly as we face the threat of a Delta variant spread.

"Anyone who fails to take a test when directed will not be allowed into the workplace, and their employment at the NCC will be discontinued. This is just common sense, either you are vaccinated or you are tested every three days."
Dr Esorom acknowledged that Prime Minister James Marape had made it clear that freedom of choice on vaccines was a basic human right and that this would be respected.

"Another human right is for our people to go to their workplaces and local shops without the risk of being infected by someone carrying Covid-19."

ps - is that Anthony Wagambie in the photo getting the vaccine shot?

Lindsay F Bond

That Marape-led sidetrack is fudging the focus that is much needed in responding to the nation's risk from Covid-19

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