Who is most at risk?
People with existing diseases and illness and frontline healthcare workers are most at risk of contracting COVID-19. Many communities in Papua New Guinea have little or no access to emergency healthcare, presenting huge logistical challenges and potentially deadly consequences if COVID spreads to PNG's most remote communities.
What is needed to end the crisis?
The current COVID-19 outbreak highlights the urgent need for vaccine equity, as Papua New Guinea has been left behind due to the inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally. While wealthy countries like Australia have pre-purchased millions of doses of vaccines, low-income countries like PNG are pushed to the back of the queue.
The Australian Government has recently sent 8,480 AstraZeneca vaccines to PNG, but this is not enough to cover the country’s 30,000 health workers and ancillary staff, plus other high-risk groups, and is too late for the many healthcare professionals who are already infected. Australia is now locally producing millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine which could be shared with Papua New Guinea immediately as it battles this spiralling outbreak.
“The outbreak in PNG is rapidly escalating, with hospitals and clinics overwhelmed and many health workers already infected,” says MSF Australia Executive Director Jennifer Tierney. “What’s needed is a bigger response, now, before the situation gets out of control.”
High-risk people like health workers need to be vaccinated first, no matter where they live, in line with the World Health Organization’s Equitable Allocation Framework. This will reduce the risk of vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variants developing and help end the pandemic sooner. Without access to vaccines and other essential medical tools, Papua New Guinea’s outbreak will only spiral even further out of control.
“Papua New Guinea needed these vaccines yesterday,” says Tierney. “What will be the situation for other Pacific nations? Australia needs to act fast to ensure that all health workers and other high-risk people are vaccinated across the Pacific.”