Australian and PNG community leaders tackle vaccine hesitancy

Western province Sleeves Up campaign event.
Western province Sleeves Up campaign event.

League legend Mal Meninga has rolled up his sleeves to throw his support behind PNG’s COVID vaccine rollout. The former PNG national team coach and Australian NRL icon is the latest community leader tackling misinformation about COVID-19 and urging people to get vaccinated in the Sleeves Up campaign supported by Australia.

Meninga likens the vaccine approach to a league game strategy – everyone has a part to play and everyone needs to work together. “It’s a very important message to do the right thing by your families, by their villages and by their country. We plead with all the leaders, all the front-liners, the essential services, to lead by example and get vaccinated”, he urges in a video being shared on PNG social media platforms.

The Sleeves Up campaign, a collaborative effort between the PNG Department of Health, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and health partners, was launched earlier this month to coincide with the start of the national vaccine rollout. Australia is the main funder through its support of UNICEF. The campaign is focussed on tackling vaccine hesitancy by ensuring the circulation of clear, accurate data on the benefits of vaccination. It includes testimony by health and community leaders such as Sir John Cardinal Ribat.

While Australia’s early vaccine support focussed on Port Moresby and the administration of vaccines for front line health staff, Australia’s COVID-19 response support spans the country, with Australia providing support to all 22 provinces as they prepare for and roll out COVID-19 vaccines. Since last year, Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) have worked closely with the National Coordination Centre, provincial authorities and health professionals to provide support and help to determine the best course of action to curb the spread of COVID.

Misinformation about the disease and vaccines has led to vaccine hesitancy globally. PNG and Australia health authorities are both dealing with this issue. Dispelling myths and misinformation about the disease and vaccines among health workers has been an aim of the current AUSMAT mission. Dr Mark Little, head of AUSMAT in PNG recently spoke on PNG’s NBC radio. He encouraged everyone to listen to the experts and follow public health recommendations.

“Every one of those people is so precious because the service that they provide to the country is so important.” 

In particular, he acknowledged the special role of health workers in providing routine health services in addition to response activities. "Papua New Guinea has some very dedicated doctors and nurses and community health workers and extension health officers and the whole laboratory staff who are working so hard to look after their people. And I am constantly amazed how hardworking the people are.” He urged all health workers to be vaccinated.