PNG approves AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

1:18 pm on 10 March 2021

Papua New Guinea has granted regulatory approval for the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to be used in the country.

As PNG struggles to contain the spread of Covid-19, with its total number of confirmed cases approaching 2000, the government is preparing for the vaccine rollout, saying it hopes this will begin by the end of April.

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Photo: AFP

Prime Minister James Marape said the PNG Medical and Scientific Advisory Comittee studied the various Covid-19 vaccines developed.

He said it recommended that PNG source the AstraZeneca vaccine developed through the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access, or COVAX, facility. It has also been approved by the World Health Organisation.

Marape said vaccination would not be compulsory. It will be targeted at health workers, people over the age of 50 and those with underlying health conditions.

According to the Department of Health, PNG will receive a total of 588,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine before end of June from the first allocation.

The vaccine will be shipped to PNG in two shipments: the 1st shipment of 288,000 doses is expected to arrive sometime between end of March to April and the second shipment with the remaining 300,000 doses will arrive between May and June of this year.

The tentative date of vaccination will be end of April or beginning of May.

Frontline essential health workers would be vaccinated first, with the initial allocation of vaccine by the end of June, followed by the most vulnerable including those with co-morbidities and older persons in the second half of the year.

In a statement, Marape voiced concern that a large number of health workers have been affected by Covid-19, therefore, they will be given priority for vaccination.

"Health workers will be vaccinated first as we are seeing a growing number of health workers who are getting infected in the line of their work,"he said.

"There is evidence that there is a large community transmission in the National Capital District, and that is affecting health workers who have come in contact with Covid-19 patients in the course of their duty.

"This is a serious community transmission and we are now relooking at our own isolation strategies, and how we can best look after our health workers while processes for bringing in the vaccine are completed and the vaccines are brought into the country."

The prime minister said he would not be taking the vaccine ahead of those who need it most, and would only take it to show Papua New Guineans that the vaccine can boost their immune system to fight the virus.

PNG's prime minister James Marape announces eight new Covid-19 cases in Port Moresby, urging all residents of the capital to wear masks. 21 July 2020.

PNG's prime minister James Marape announces eight new Covid-19 cases in Port Moresby, urging all residents of the capital to wear masks. 21 July 2020. Photo: PNG PM Media

Australia to prioritise Torres Strait communities

As PNG struggles with a spike in Covid-19 numbers the Australian Government has announced that vaccinating its citizens in the Torres Strait is a priority.

PNG's Western Province lies within a few kilometres of the Australian border and there is frequent interaction between citizens of both countries throughout the islands.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation says aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders have an increased risk of acquiring and developing serious outcomes from communicable diseases, due to multiple factors.

It says it is critical the vaccine programme is designed and delivered in a manner which is accessible, inclusive and culturally safe.

Haus krai risk

Papua New Guineans have been urged to observe protective measures as they attend haus krais, or mourning events, for the late Sir Michael Somare.

PNG's founding prime minister died almost two weeks ago of pancreatic cancer at the age of 84.

A series of haus krais are being held in Port Moresby for representatives of all PNG's provinces to come and pay respects to Sir Michael.

These events are drawing thousands of people throughout the week in the national capital where community transmission of the virus is high.

The Oro Governor, Gary Juffa, has posted a message on Facebook urging people to be careful and to observe basic protective measures at haus krais

Juffa has also revealed he recently had the coronavirus, one of several MPs to have tested positive. He said he had been clear of covid for about two weeks, before which he was sick for three weeks.

Juffa said the public must be careful to protect themselves as Covid-19 is real and dangerous.