“They are our family. They are our friends. They are our neighbors. They are our partners, ”said Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, last week. “This is in the best interests of Australia and our region.”
Covax, a global health initiative designed to make access to vaccines more equitable, began distributing vaccine doses in developing countries last month and has said it will deliver 588,000 to Papua New Guinea in June.
But in some cases, richer nations have failed to honor contracts, reducing the number of doses the initiative can buy, said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, in a statement last month. He warned that the pandemic would not end until everyone was vaccinated.
“This is not a charity issue,” he said. “It is a question of epidemiology.”
Until then, Papua New Guinea officials will have to fight not only the virus itself, but also a tidal wave of misinformation about the pathogen and vaccines, transmitted largely through social media channels.
“Even for the educated healthcare worker, it is causing a lot of doubt,” said Dr. Nou, the Port Moresby-based physician who has conducted a survey on the views of healthcare workers on the pandemic. He said some in the country believed the virus was a hoax, or that people on the island were immune, or that it might be safer to get the virus than to get vaccinated.
With the country fighting an all-out battle against the coronavirus, some public health experts worry that redirecting resources could come at a lethal cost for those with other serious health conditions, such as malaria or tuberculosis. Papua New Guinea has one of the highest tuberculosis rates in the world.