Over the past few months, COVID-19 has spiked in Papua New Guinea. The number of cases likely will reach 10,000 this week and nearly 100 people here have died from the disease. Last week, Papua New Guinea received 132,000 doses of the Astra-Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine thanks to Gavi, the international vaccine alliance. This delivery is only the first of many and is a critical step to stopping COVID-19 in PNG.
This pandemic will not end until it ends worldwide. We must all do our part to stop it. And that means getting vaccinated.
Unfortunately, misinformation spread via social media and word of mouth has led many Papua New Guineans to believe things that are untrue about the vaccines and many people have said they won’t get vaccinated.
But here is the simple truth: Vaccines work.
Just as an athlete practices to prepare for a big game, COVID-19 vaccines teach our immune systems how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. It typically takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to build protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. That means it is possible a person could still get COVID-19 before or just after vaccination and then get sick because the vaccine did not have enough time to provide protection. That’s why it’s important that we continue to wear masks, wash our hands regularly, and maintain physical distance from others while we are getting everyone vaccinated.
According to data from UNICEF, vaccines save more than 5 lives every minute, helping people to grow up and grow old in good health. Thanks to vaccines, more than 18 million people – who would otherwise have been paralyzed by polio – are able to walk, play, and dance today. Vaccinated children do better at school and their communities benefit economically. Vaccines advance global welfare and are among the most cost-effective means of doing so.
To date, nearly 900 million people around the world have received a COVID-19 vaccine. The United States is committed to leading the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerating global vaccine distribution. as the U.S. is the world’s single largest donor through Gavi to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, which pools global demand and funding to help low- and middle-income economies access safe and effective vaccines. To keep people safe, build back the global economy, and curb the emergence of variants, we must work together to end the pandemic. All countries, regardless of income status, need vaccines that meet rigorous standards for safety and effectiveness.
Among the vaccines that meet international standards are those made by Astra-Zeneca, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson. Astra-Zeneca is currently the only vaccine currently approved for use in PNG, but we are working with the government to expand the number of approved vaccines in order to accelerate the vaccination process here.
But we cannot advance our protection of Papua New Guineans and begin to put an end to COVID-19 unless everyone gets vaccinated. I urge the citizens of Papua New Guinea to step up, as we have in the United States and around the world, to get vaccinated. In doing so you are helping stop a global pandemic – you are protecting yourself, your family, and your Wantok.
Photo caption: Ambassador McKee received the COVID-19 vaccine on 20 April.
Photo caption: Prime Minister James Marape received the COVID-19 vaccine last month.