Ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has access to COVID-19 vaccines has never been an easy feat.
First, the world held its breath to see if a vaccine would be possible at all. Next came questions about the speed of vaccine production, the availability of cold storage infrastructure and the inevitable question of cost in play.
Now, in the weeks following the second anniversary of the pandemic, some of the most significant challenges surrounding conflict, politics, religion, misinformation, complacency and mistrust are emerging. Below, we explain why, once many of the previous challenges have been resolved, some nations in the Pacific continue to have dismal low jab rates.
Overflowing health sectors and the hesitation with vaccines are likely to see Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu among the last countries in the world to reach high levels of COVID-19 vaccination. Photo: Asian Development Bank / Flickr
That Lowy InstituteAustralia’s leading foreign policy think tank has predicted that some countries in the Pacific could cope years to vaccinate even a third of their populationan allegation made after taking into account the current hesitation with vaccines per. country.
Alexandre Dayant, the lead author of the model, explains.
“Vaccine delay is the delay in the acceptance or rejection of vaccines, despite the availability of vaccine services. The problem is not the vaccine supply; it is the vaccine demand,” he told the Guardian. “One of the biggest causes of vaccine hesitation is misinformation. Misinformation is spreading much faster than the virus in the Pacific. One of the major problems in the Pacific is that social media is an important source of information … this undermines the efforts it makes. international communities are doing to inject the vaccine into people’s arms. “
NUMBER OF HEALTH WORKERS AVAILABLE
Adequate vaccine coverage requires adequate availability of logistical and medical staff. Without staff to support the supply chain and distribution, vaccines cannot enter countries and cities. Similarly, vaccines cannot come into arms without health professionals.
Papua New Guinea, a country with a population of almost 9 million, has only 500 doctors and even fewer nurses – a share of 0.1 doctors per capita. 1,000 people. Fiji is at 0.9, Kiribati and Vanuatu at 0.2, Marshall Islands at 0.4, Samoa at 0.3 and Tonga at 0.5.
The global average is approx 1,566 doctors per 1,000 people.
Many Pacific nations are archipelagos, with inhabitants often scattered across the many islands. Image: UNSPLASH
The way in which citizens are spread across a country, and the topography of that country, can also greatly affect the speed and success of local vaccine rollouts. For example, many Pacific nations are archipelagos, with residents often scattered across the many islands, making it difficult to get vaccines to thousands of remote villages.
Tonga, a nation with more than 170 islands, has one urban population of only 23%.
Eighteen percent fall under the category in Samoa, 13% in Papua New Guinea, a quarter in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and just under a third in Timor-Leste. At the same time, only 2.75% of Papua New Guinea’s population has been fully vaccinated. In it Solomon Islands and Vanuatuthe fully vaccinated figure hits 14% and 28% respectively.
Tonga, a nation that has long adopted an elimination strategy, is one of the most recognized countries for managing vaccine satisfaction. Image: UNSPLASH
Within the same breath of vaccination dust is vaccine satisfaction.
“An important reason for the hesitation with vaccines is the absence of perceived benefit from vaccination when there is no risk at all,” Chunhuei Chi, Center for Global Health Director at Oregon State University, told the scientific journal Nature.
A recent report from The Royal Society and The British Academy backs Chi’s comment and explains that the absence of diseases can often give people a false sense of security. Their study showed that people are less likely to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they feel they have a low risk of getting the virus in the first place.
Self-satisfaction may particularly affect countries using “COVID-19 Zero” as a public health approach.
Tonga, a nation that has long adopted an elimination strategy, is one of the most recognized countries for manage vaccine satisfaction. Over 40% of the country’s 105,000 strong population have not yet been double-vaccinated, while only 3,418 COVID-19 cases have been registered.