Widespread cynicism over a commitment to vaccinating is plaguing Papua New Guinea to overcome surges in Covid-19 cases after a failure to provide more education and disseminate misinformation.
Around 23,000 positive cases for 245 deaths have been reported over the length of the pandemic.
Even more than 65,000 “suspect” Covid-19 cases have been calculated in the country just in the past 12 months alone.
But most concerning is PNG’s own administrative health data that shows around 2.6 million cases of “flu and pneumonia-like symptoms” that translates to nearly 30 per cent of the population being infected.
The scenario follows PNG all but avoiding positive Covid cases for many months before this year the pandemic turned into an epidemic the year after most world nations first tackled it.
Despite the significance of anecdotal figures, a recent poll conducted by The Pacific Advocate found more than half of respondents were against vaccines on offer to protect against the virus.
The overwhelming majority of the 56 per cent – five out of every eight dissenters – are refusing to be vaccinated “because I’m concerned that it may be worse than Covid”.
“It’s not the virus that people are scared of, it’s the vaccine and how the world and all superpowers are pushing for everyone to be vaccinated – that’s what is making people suspicious and scared,” poll respondent Sol Tee said.
“I ain’t taking the vaccine – none of the people in my community fell ill or died of the vaccine.”
That 35 per cent of entire poll respondents’ views coincides with an earlier report that calls from the state’s health department and those from Prime Minister James Marape have fallen on deaf ears.
But another 14 per cent say they are considering taking a vaccine but “I still need more information”.
Local surveys have indicated that many people want the authorities to promote better awareness of Covid-19 vaccines before taking them.
“They have to clear the air on this issue before vaccination,” Timothy Pestro said.
“People are worried about these vaccines due this negative publicity in social media.”
Papua New Guinea Council of Churches previously declared its support for the Covid-19 vaccination, putting its “trust in the safety and efficacy” as a lifesaving tool.
But one in five respondents to the poll believe “God will protect me” during the pandemic and had no need to be vaccinated.
The 21 per cent of people with strong faith may dispute statements from the churches’ council but would tend to align more with the stance from the Port Moresby-based Tabernacle of Prayer Church.
Reverend Joseph Waters raised concern whether “vaccine components have the potential to induce any damage or injury to the human body”.
Only 30 per cent argue everyone should take a vaccine “for the good of our nation and the world”.
Should those figures play out, more than 6.2 million Papua New Guineans would not take a vaccine.
“We might have some short-term side-effects as it is common to all vaccines,” David Pia said.
“(But) I, therefore, recommend everyone who is an age of 18 years and above to be vaccinated, otherwise we might face a similar scenario like India, who had a second wave when they were not anticipating.”