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Omicron is exactly what PNG doesn’t need

Emeritus Professor John Dwyer  -  "Covid is far from tamed. Less than 2% of people in Papua New Guinea have been vaccinated"

| Pearls & Irritations | Edited extracts

SYDNEY - Alarm bells are ringing as a new variant of the Covid virus has emerged in southern Africa and is spreading rapidly around the world.

Labelled Omicron (the number 15 in Greek) the variant has numerous mutations that could make it highly infectious and possibly resistant to vaccines.

It has already infected people in 12 African states and has made its way to Britain, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel and most likely many other countries.

This is the first time scientists have been able to watch in real time an infectious agent mutating to improve its chances of survival.

The virus has created a means of slipping smoothly into the body, locking onto a cell and fooling it that it's OK.

Within days of the new variant being detected, scientists could see 30 or so changes to the spike proteins of Omicron.

We do not yet know if these changes make the virus more infectious. Omicron is certainly infectious but there is a chance it will be neutralised by the antibodies vaccines produce. We will know soon.

Meanwhile, probably doomed efforts are being made to restrict the travel of people from countries where Omicron has been detected.

Don’t get me started on the irony of having millions of the desperate poor crying out for vaccines as they run out of ground to bury all their dead.

Meanwhile thousands of Australians march through Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane angrily protesting that their governments want to mandate vaccination in certain circumstances.

Last week, not for the first time, US president Joe Biden urged vaccine manufacturers to remove patent protections from their vaccines.

In Australia, people have much to think and worry about as we challenge the virus to let us live a near normal life.

While 72% of Australians are fully vaccinated, which has slowed the spread of Covid, we have a long way to go.

Closer to home, less than 2% of people in Papua New Guinea have been vaccinated.

Protection after two shots of a vaccine is excellent in the short term but protection wanes after six months or so.

Serious illness and death occurs far less frequently as immunity wanes but there is universal scientific agreement that a third booster dose is required for longer protection.

Epidemiologists are becoming convinced we will need to vaccinate children as young as two to achieve infection control.

Australia is not sufficiently concerned about the lessons of Covid. Vaccines alone are not sufficient to limit community spread.

It might take 90% of a population to be vaccinated with three doses to contain the spread of the disease. We are a long way from that target.

The pace with which we are abandoning crucial public health initiatives is of great concern. Countries that have done so have paid a high price despite relatively high vaccination rates.

I am particularly concerned that in Australia contact tracing units may be demobilised, mask use abandoned and contact check-in dumped. I anticipate a big increase in infections in January and February, putting our hospitals under strain.

Covid is far from tamed – and 7.3 million Australians are not fully vaccinated including 5.2 million not vaccinated at all.


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Kindin Ongugo

Since Omicron, PNG has had no significant new Covid-19 strain similar to Delta.

Finally, the World Health Organisation took the next critical step this week to declare that Covid-19 no longer represents a global health emergency.

The light shone by Omicron is getting brighter. Soon we will be out of the tunnel.

Yes, WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, did announce last Friday that Covid is no longer a public health emergency of international concern. But at a press conference the next day, he emphasised that Covid remains a global health threat and Friday's announcement didn’t mean countries can let down their guard - KJ

Dr John Christie

A major issue that PNG faces is vaccination hesitancy, through a strongly held but erroneous fear by the community that the Covid-19 vaccines will cause a range of nasty conditions.

This has magnified the already known difficulties in providing vaccine coverage, resulting in a very low rate of coverage (reportedly less than 3%).

How has this vaccine hesitancy come about? The people of PNG were always very accepting of Western medicine, although often also trying local bush medicine at the same time.

One of the major reasons for this acceptance of Western medicine was the result of the anti-yaws campaigns run by the then Public Health Department in the 1950-60s.

At that time, yaws was widely prevalent throughout PNG and caused much pain and disfigurement.

(An internet search will provide the whole story for those interested. This from the Journal of Tropical Medicine provides a good overview:

These campaigns were so successful that yaws was all but eradicated. Given that a single injection of penicillin cured the condition, the power of Western medicine was established.

This also resulted in the delivery method of the penicillin, through injection or in pidgin 'sut', becoming the accepted norm and there was a belief that it could cure almost anything.

Later vaccination campaigns using injections `for childhood infectious diseases were accepted by the community without hesitation.

So what has happened with the Covid-19 vaccine?

A large part of PNG (certainly all major population sites) now has cell phone coverage and the PNG community has been very quick to adapt to this new modality of not only voice communication but also the various social media platforms.

Social media appears to have played a major role in the spreading of disinformation and fake news in a population that is poorly educated and between cultures.

In addition not having trust in government or the bureaucracy does not help the situation.

I have not read of or seen any evidence of any concerted attempt to counter this disinformation by PNG government media campaigns, which is essential if attitudes are to change.

I fear that the Covid -19 epidemic will run its course unchecked in PNG.

While the mortality rate for Covid in PNG is quoted at 1.5-2%, poor or absent record keeping and the absence of widespread testing will hide the true rate.

The true rate, in a population wracked by poor nutrition, widespread infectious disease and an almost non-existent health service, will be double the published figures or higher.

And this is without mentioning the possible effects of the syndrome known as Long Covid for many of those who survive infection.

Dr John Christie

In reply to Philip Fitzpatrick (29 November 2021) - ' A query to Dr John Christie:

"If a mutant variant develops in PNG how likely is it that we'll know about it?"

Given the reported low Covid-19 testing rates in PNG and poor laboratory services, it's very unlikely we will know about it until it appears in a country with high Covid-19 testing rates and manifests itself either through increased transmissibility or virulence (or both).

In this case the infected person can be traced back through contacts to PNG.

"Who is to say this hasn't already happened?"

Clearly no one can say that this has not already happened but it is very unlikely given the testing that takes place in developed countries and in particular Australia.

If there was a change in the epidemiology of Covid-19 detected in Australia, that viral strain would be extensively researched as is currently happening with the Omicron mutant strain first detected in Southern Africa.

"Has the federal government given this possibility any thought?"

I cannot speak for the Commonwealth government but I am sure that the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer (and the various state/territory Chief Health Officers) are well aware of the possibility.

Keep in mind that these are highly qualified and experienced medical practitioners and are able to receive the best advice possible.

Philip Fitzpatrick

"These mutant viral strains will develop in countries where there is little resistance to the virus through acquired immunity (vaccination) and where general health is poor due to nutrition and infectious disease (HIV and TB in particular). PNG will be a leading contender in this race."

A query to Dr John Christie.

If a mutant variant develops in PNG how likely is it that we'll know about it?

Who is to say this hasn't already happened?

Has the federal government given this possibility any thought?

Dr John Christie

Until the world is vaccinated against COVID-19, or have developed viral infection induced immunity, we will continue to see mutant strains of COVID-19. Potentially each mutant strain of virus will be more infectious and virulent. The point may soon be reached that a viral mutant strain will be able to bypass the immunity provided by the current COVID-19 vaccines or virus induced immunity from a previous viral strain and render us all once again susceptible to this virus. These mutant viral strains will develop in countries where there is little resistance to the virus through acquired immunity (vaccination) and where general health is poor due to nutrition and infectious disease (HIV and TB in particular). PNG will be a leading contender in this race. We are a long way from the end of this disease.

Sandy Daze

We are finding excess deaths in American states which have the highest rates of vaccination. Also there is the missed opportunity costs associated with lockdowns which make the entire question of quarantining the healthy a fool's errand.

Children (under 18 year olds) are virtually bullet-proof when it comes to the WuFlu, so why in the heck would we want to subject them to the vax when, if they do contract the WuFlu it manifests as nothing more than a bad cold? The resulting naturally-produced antibodies are better than any vax. Nevertheless, TPTB have one refrain, VAX. VAX the old, VAX the middle age, VAX the young, but VAX, VAX, VAX.

Sad, and very unsettling that very effective, and widely available therapeutics (e.g. Ivermectin, HCQ, etc) are not only not prescribed, but are not even allowed. The very idea that an "all-approaches" response is not adopted is highly suspicious.

IOW, follow the money; said differently cui bono?

Those whose lives have ben ruined because of delayed medical procedures, failed businesses, social isolation leading to a host of pathologies, students whose education has lost two years have not benefited.

If I thought that was your real name and considered you to be more than a total fool, I'd put some time into proving it. But I won't - KJ

Kindin Ongugo

As a doctor I am fully vaccinated but reading case reports of medical conditions such as myocarditis and thyroiditis following vaccinations does concern me.

The viral components in the vaccines are ok but adjuvants in the vaccines are only known to the patent holders.. The adjuvants are my concerns.

Normally food products have labels state clearly the different chemical components in each food item but I am not sure if vaccines are labeled in the same manner.

I am sure Public Health Physicians and Infectious Disease Physicians sat down and figured out how previous pandemics were controlled without vaccines.

It is possible this new variant could be more harmful but there is a real possibility this new strain could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

Hearing from colleagues back in PNG the delta variant may have already peaked and is now on the downward trend.

We will be wiser in a few weeks.

Now let’s just spend some time researching your theses, Kindin. First we should note that Covid-19 (or SARS-CoV-2) has caused an estimated 5.2 million deaths worldwide so far at a reported case death rate of 2% globally, 1.5% in PNG and 1% in Australia.

The death rate from Astra Zeneca vaccine is one in a million.

In October, the reported PNG death rate from Covid was running at 15 deaths per million per month.


Covid-19 can trigger myocarditis at a rate of 11 events per 100,000 people. The Pfizer vaccine can cause myocarditis, as you say, but at rate of 2.7 events per 100,000 people. So the odds favour the vaccine here.

As for thyroiditis, which you also mention, thyroid function abnormalities are common in Covid-19 patients, especially in severe cases.

Indeed, patients with Covid-19 frequently require high intensity care because they present with thyrotoxicosis related to Covid.

The research shows that after vaccination with an mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, and in light of the literature, it is not possible to confirm with certainty that cases of subacute thyroiditis have been triggered 2, but there is a possible causal relationship. There are very few recorded (possible) cases.

But we do know that Covid commonly results in thyroid problems, some of which are very serious.

We're still learning much about Covid and what it does and what its long-term effects might be. But we already know it can cause organ and vascular damage, invade the brain, trigger autoimmunity and that, in an estimated one-third of cases, has long-term effects akin to ME/CFS, a condition I have and would not wish on any of your patients.

As for "there is a real possibility this new strain could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic", that, Kindin, is not science it is wishful thinking. And I suspect we are far from that point - KJ

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