Papua New Guinea is getting COVID-19 vaccine ready


The recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Papua New Guinea has emphasized the need for COVID-19 vaccines in the country – and the first shipment of AstraZeneca (Oxford) vaccines is expected as early as this month.

COVID-19 vaccine

Medical staff of PNG’s Defense Force received in July last year hands-on training on COVID-19 response. Credit: WHO/ Papua New Guinea

Almost seven months after the 14-day lockdown in Port Moresby was lifted, COVID-19 cases are growing again in PNG.

Inching closer to 2000 confirmed cases, PNG this week has signed off on the regulatory approval required to get the AstraZeneca vaccine into the country.

The PNG Department of Health said in a statement that the National Department of Health with support from the World Health Organisation and UNICEF is getting ready to receive the vaccine and is making plans for its distribution and use in the country.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has committed 588,000 doses for PNG before the end of June. The first shipment of 288,000 doses is expected to arrive between March and April, and the second shipment with 300,000 doses will arrive between May and June.

‘The plan is to get 20 per cent of the population vaccinated by 2021. It’s forecasted that by 2022, 30 per cent of the population will be immunised.’

But who will get the vaccine first? Healthcare workers and other essential workers (about three per cent of the population) will be the first to get the jab, according to a Department of Health statement. Older persons and those with chronic illnesses are being considered in the second half of the year.

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‘We are requesting every province to determine the number of these essential workers in their province so a distribution plan can be made for the vaccine once it arrives,’ said Secretary for Health, Dr Osborne Liko.

Storage and distribution

UNICEF, considered the largest procurer and distributor of vaccines in the world, has been helping PNG coordinate efforts to get ready for the COVID-19 vaccine deployment.

UNICEF has conducted a Cold Chain Equipment (CCE) and logistics inventory to ensure PNG has adequate cold storage capacity to keep the vaccinations at 2 to 8 degrees Celsius.

Between March and April, PNG expects to receive over 320 refrigerators besides the current installation 364 refrigerator freezers, said UNICEF representatives during a presentation on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the country.

UNICEF is also concentrating its efforts in PNG in developing training materials and working with national and provincial levels for coordinating the vaccine distribution.

Health workers are receiving training in storage, temperature monitoring, application and safe disposal of injection waste of the COVID-19 vaccine. The plan is to get 20 per cent of the population vaccinated by 2021. It’s forecasted that by 2022, 30 per cent of the population will be immunised.

Worried neighbours

Dr Liko said people mustn’t get complacent just because the vaccine rollout will commence soon: ‘It must be emphasised that even with the vaccine, we must maintain and strengthen public health measures that work like: face masking, physical distancing, frequent hand washing, respiratory and cough hygiene, avoiding crowds, and ensuring good ventilation,’ he said.

As long as the virus is circulating, the risk remains and people must continue to act with caution and follow the Niupela Pasin measures for the foreseeable future.

The surge in COVID cases in PNG has prompted the Queensland Government in Australia to fast-track vaccination for people in the Torres Strait Islands.

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