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