AstraZeneca vaccine: Papua New Guinea to receive Australian-produced jabs

CARE Australia has provided aid to Papua New Guinea since 1989. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, its work has included education on the importance of regularly washing hands and social distancing, as well as trying to dispel COVID-19 myths. Picture: Supplied.

CARE Australia has provided aid to Papua New Guinea since 1989. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, its work has included education on the importance of regularly washing hands and social distancing, as well as trying to dispel COVID-19 myths. Picture: Supplied.

Australia will continue to send AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to Papua New Guinea, despite potential blood-clotting side effects delaying its local rollout.

Australia has committed to send 10,000 domestically produced AstraZeneca vaccines a week to the Pacific Islands.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said he was still seeking 1 million doses of the vaccine to be released from Europe and sent to PNG.

Less than 200 vaccines have been administered in the country of more than 8.7 million, the World Health Organisation says. The WHO has received reports of 68 deaths from 8000 COVID-19 cases since the outbreak begun.

Aid workers in Papua New Guinea estimate the figure to be much higher, reporting a reluctance from residents to adhere to social-distancing and hygiene directions.

CARE PNG director Justine McMahon blamed social media for the spread of misinformation about the severity of the virus. She said fake news was being distributed through Facebook, casting false doubt on whether or not the virus was real.

CARE Australia's offices across PNG are working to educated residents on the importance of hand hygiene. Picture: Supplied.

CARE Australia's offices across PNG are working to educated residents on the importance of hand hygiene. Picture: Supplied.

"There's also a huge amount of distrust about the vaccine and we're now working to counter that," Ms McMahon said.

Ms McMahon has been based on the island nation for the past nine years, working for Canberra-headquartered CARE to improve maternal and sexual-reproductive health outcomes.

Ms McMahon said all their work has continued since the spike in coronavirus cases, albeit with the introduction of an education around wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing.

"It's the last one in particular I think people are really struggling with, although all of them aren't properly being practiced," she said.

Ms McMahon said there was fears they would soon be feeling the repercussions from a memorial service for former prime minister Michael Somare, which is suspected to have been a super-spreader event.

She said Goroka, where she is based, is densely populated, which is a concern. CARE also have an office in another major highland town, as well as in Bougainville and Port Moresby.

Justine McMahon is the PNG director for CARE Australia. Photo: Supplied.

Justine McMahon is the PNG director for CARE Australia. Photo: Supplied.

"What we're hearing from all of those places is that very few precautions are being followed by the general population," she said.

"We look at the markets and at bus stops and people are just shoulder-to-shoulder."

"There's also supposed to be limited travel between places, as far as we can tell that's not happening."

Ms McMahon said another major concern was that there was virtually no contact tracing being done.

"I am aware of one person who died last week and his family who lived with him in the house asked if they could be tested and they were told 'I'm sorry, we don't have any kits'," she said.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne and Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja recently announced Australia had procured an additional 40,000 testing kits for Papua New Guinea, with 20,000 to be delivered next week.

A team of 17 medical specialists left Darwin for Port Moresby on Friday, where they will provide advice to local health authorities.

Operating primarily from the city's major hospital, the team will provide specialist support to local authorities to establish an emergency centre for patients needing critical care, creating a respiratory triage and initial treatment area and responding to the upsurge of COVID-19 transmission.

The RAAF flight transporting the team also carried additional medical supplies and infrastructure to support the response.

More than 8000 AstraZeneca vaccines were delivered to Papua New Guinea from Australia's stock late last month. Next week, PNG is due to receive a further 132,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX Facility, as part of a global effort to provide equitable access to vaccines.

Mr Seselja said Australia was committed to ensuring the Pacific had access to full coverage of safe and effective vaccines.

"We have announced $623 million to ensure we can achieve full vaccine coverage in the Pacific and Timor-Leste, and to support access to vaccines across South-East Asia," Mr Seselja said.

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This story PNG to receive Australian-produced AstraZeneca vaccines first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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