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  • Nigel Akuani 

Health Experts on Testing and Vaccines

- Photographs: Fr Ambrose Pereira and Jessica Oata

Port Moresby: Esteemed Health Experts came together in an effort to enable Papua New Guineans understand a bit more about the COVID-19 testing and vaccination situation in the country.

A two-hour COVID-19 talk session was held on Saturday 17th April 2021, at the Catholic Bishops Conference, Waigani. The talk organized by the Catholic Professional Society of PNG, had as its theme: ‘Informed for our well-being’, and focused on testing and vaccines. It was held as an online Social Media digital platform using ‘Zoom’, to connect with participants in the country and abroad. Several more connected via the Facebook page of Radio Maria PNG.

Speakers included Dr Moses Laman, Deputy Director PNG Institute of Medical Research; Dr. Clare Rock MD MS, Associate Professor of Medicine from the John Hopkins School of Medicine, United States of America, and Professor John Vince, Pediatrician from the UPNG School of Medicine. Moderating discussions throughout was Mr. Simon Anakapu, Consultant and Member of the Catholic professionals.

Responding to incidences where locals now tended to become more hesitant in going in for testing and receiving the shot of vaccine, Dr Laman reaffirmed that the testing was safe and that the AstraZeneca vaccine had indeed gone through various stages of clinical trial before its approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

He cautioned how viruses had a tendency to mutate, readjust and then strike, and said this was exactly what was being experienced in the world.

In regard to the false positives, “We are to be very concerned about the false negatives as that is to our disadvantage”, echoed the panelists.

Prof. Vince stressed that the benefits of using the vaccine far outweighed its disadvantages and countered any moral dilemmas that people might have, particularly now that its younger generation were contracting the virus. “Papua New Guinea is a young country, and the bulk of its population is comprised of young people, and through whom COVID-19 was silently circulating and now it has struck,” he said.

He even revealed a shocking truth of how our people even in the prime of their working lives had died from the dreadful virus. “These were perfectly healthy people who died from the disease at the ages of 24, 39, 40, 53, 55, 56, and in the 60s, and this makes the situation all the more serious,” he said.

Dr Rock warned how the virus had a tendency to mutate and spread between people who did not display any symptoms, and urged for stern exercise of the safety measures currently in place. “The symptoms easily spread between people who do not have it, but this is a manageable risk between people if safety protocols are adhered to. The vaccine boosts the immune system,” she said.

A point also reinforced by the panel was that Papua New Guinea has storage facilities for the AstraZeneca, while it will not be able to handle storage facilities for the Pfizer and other vaccines. “The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh the miniscule issues it has faced”.

According to Mr. Anakapu, these scheduled talks were facilitated by the Port Moresby Chapter of CPS PNG to bring specialists together to discuss concerns and frequently asked and unanswered questions by Papua New Guineans about the infamous Coronavirus. “It is important to receive information from the health experts because it will help shape their decisions and help the government in its aim to protect the country,” he added.

Time could not allow many questions, which were sent online to be answered by the panelists. It was the first zoom conference organized by CPS and hopefully it will pick up from there in its next series.

Michael Watae viewing the talk via Facebook, extended his gratitude to the members of CPS for their resourceful and encouraging talk, and urged for the society to press on.

The dialogue is the first of a Four-Part Talk Series that will in ensuing dates later dwell on various aspects of the pandemic including: Pandemic/ COVID-19 Management, Effects and Impact of COVID-19 v/s other Diseases, Impact of COVID-19 on the social and economic conditions.

Due to the safety protocols in place as stipulated by the SOE Controller, in-person audiences were limited with only a small number of people that included health experts, members of CPS, media personnel, staff of CBCPNGSI, Priests and religious present in the Conference Hall. Participants connected via the Zoom platform, and via Radio Maria’s Broadcasting and Livestream features persons from around and outside the country were able to sit and tune in during the session.

The Panel discussion, an initiative of the Port Moresby Chapter of the Catholic Professionals Society in collaboration with the Catholic Bishops Conference: Social Communications Commission, Technical and Internet Services, Hospitality and Catering team and the staff of Radio Maria PNG resulted in a well-organized and excellent presentation.

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