Caritas Australia welcomes the commitment made on Wednesday 2 June by the Australian Government to pledge an additional $50 million to the international vaccine effort, COVAX, which aims to provide much-needed vaccine doses to lower-income countries to combat global vaccine inequity.
This commitment is in addition to the $80 million that Australia committed to COVAX last year, as well as the $623 million the government has committed to vaccination support for East Timor, the Pacific and South East Asia.
The increased support from the Australian Government comes as Australia’s closest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, struggles with widespread misinformation and fears about the vaccine during a deadly outbreak of COVID-19.
In mid-March, Australia sent 8,000 vaccine doses to PNG, yet local uncertainties about the safety of the vaccine meant that only 2,900 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine supplied by Australia had been administered by the end of April.
“Just last week a woman was sick and refused to go into the hospital for fear of being tested positive and isolated. She thought she would be locked up because she heard the word isolation. COVID-19 messaging is not being communicated properly in communities, and people are avoiding being tested because they are worried that they will be locked up,” said Diane Unagi, Caritas Australia’s Country Representative in PNG.
“The bulk of population are not on social media or watching and reading the news – they’re getting their information by word of mouth. So when messages are not communicated properly it increases the public health risk.”
The slow uptake of the vaccine is also impacted by challenges administering the vaccine in a country where remote communities lack the electricity and refrigeration necessary to keep the vaccine, leading to heat exposure and vaccine wastage.
“COVID-19 is hurting us today but we also need help for tomorrow. The effects of COVID will be long-lasting and widely felt,” said Ms Unagi.
With over 50 years working in the Pacific through extensive local partner and Church networks, Caritas Australia is working in the most remote and marginalised communities to promote awareness about the value of COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.
Caritas Australia is accepting donations to help support vulnerable communities in the Pacific through the Pacific Regional Appeal. Visit caritas.org.au or call 1800 024 413 toll-free to provide much-needed support to the appeal.
With thanks to Caritas Australia.