Fake Aussie vaccine news puts nation on brink of collapse
Australian aid agencies have taken to the airwaves in Papua New Guinea in a bid to stem COVID-19 fake news, credited with many rejecting AstraZeneca vaccines and pushing
the country's health system to the brink of collapse.
Today the country confirmed the public health system had more patients than it could cater for with more coming in each day.
Critically, communities and even some health workers have taken to social media to rail against the Australian government supplied AstraZeneca vaccines causing further concern and confusion. Nurses particularly said they were prepared to be vaccinated but not with the Australian-supplied AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of side effects.
NGO and health workers on the ground in PNG have now described misinformation broadly about COVID-19 as spreading faster than the coronavirus itself.
Aid agency Save the Children PNG country manager Gerry Dyer said it had been forced to use national, provincial and church-based radio stations to spread facts about the pandemic and vaccines.
"The misinformation is coming from every direction and spreading faster than the virus itself," he said. "What we are seeing in PNG is a tsunami of misinformation about the virus and the vaccine that will cost lives. People may encounter a social media post containing misinformation, and then repeat it in the real world as established fact."
Save's local worker Bernadette Yakopa said many people got their news from Facebook and much of it relating to the pandemic was false but filtering through to the villages. The radio bulletins include an original song about coronavirus.
"For many years, experts have warned about the dangers of unfiltered social media … without intervention from these social platforms, more people will get sick, and more people will die," she said.
Officially PNG has recorded 7500 current cases and 68 deaths but local authorities estimate the infected numbers could be at least 100,000 people, some have even speculated there could be one million people infected within the population of nine million.
According to Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) PNG's health system was on the verge of collapse with about 40 per cent of all those getting tested, testing positive including many health care workers. They said Australia's 8000 vaccines was too little too late and they too were being forced to battle coronavirus misinformation in the communities.
Prime Minister James Marape was the first Papua New Guinean to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine supplied by the Australian government followed by his two brothers with images circulated on social media in a bid to give locals confidence in the vaccine.
The PM was aware doctors and "educated people" were posting in public forums and social media specifically against AstraZeneca, his brothers publicly declared if there were side effects they would rather they all suffer together with the declaration and symbolism of the act reportedly bringing some Melanesian locals to tears.
Health Minister Jelta Wong said it was disappointed many educated locals still believed the pandemic was a hoax and or vaccines had significant side effects.
"The misinformation is really hampering our efforts to get on top of things," he said. He welcomed a pledge from India to deliver 132,000 AstraZeneca doeses to PNG next week.
Originally published as Fake Aussie vaccine news puts nation on brink of collapse