Overrun health sectors and vaccine hesitancy will likely see Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu among the last countries in the world to reach high levels of vaccination against COVID-19, with new research suggesting the nations will have vaccinated just 35% and 86% of their adult population by 2026, respectively,

The research by Australian think tank the Lowy Institute, considers factors like population, urbanisation rates, the number of available health workers, and the number of vaccine doses each health care professional can administer daily to estimate the expected rates of vaccination in each Pacific nation.

Nauru, Niue, and Palau lead the Pacific in their vaccination efforts, having already achieved near full vaccination. The Solomon Islands joins Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu at the bottom, having vaccinated just 9% of its citizens so far.

"Looking at what was happening in Papua New Guinea and the rest of Melanesia shocked me a little bit,” said Alexandre Dayant, the lead author of the research, according to the Guardian. “It raises a big question: what will happen to countries that are not getting fully vaccinated in the future. Are they going to be the pariahs of this world?”

The modelling also examined vaccine sources, explaining that while the supply of vaccines to the Pacific has been guaranteed — at first through the COVAX facility and later via donors like Australia — the actual source of the vaccines is unique for each Pacific Island. 

Australia, it was revealed, has provided the largest supply of vaccines to the region overall. 

By the end of 2020, Pacific nations will have received 15 million doses from their southerly neighbour, a portion of the 60 million allocated by the country to the Asia-Pacific region in total. Fiji has taken the lion’s share so far at just over a million doses, followed by Timor-Leste, which has received 590,000. 

Of the 60 million, 40 million will come from Australia’s domestic supply and 20 million will be bought through UNICEF. 

COVAX, New Zealand, China, and the United States have likewise made large vaccine contributions. 

"The issue is not vaccine supply,” Dayant said. “It’s vaccine demand.”

Dayant added: “One of the biggest reasons for vaccine hesitancy is misinformation. Misinformation spreads much faster than the virus in the Pacific. One of the big issues in the Pacific is that social media is a key source of information … this undermines the effort that the international community is making to inject the vaccine into people’s arms.”


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