‘’I am glad to be finally vaccinated!’

A retired teacher’s journey to getting vaccinated – finally.

UNICEF Papua New Guinea
UNICEF STOP Consultant Eki George (left) with Gigila Wali (right), a 67-year-old retired teacher who was the first member of Fatmilak community to get vaccinated in New Ireland Province.
31 May 2022

Sixty-seven-year-old retired teacher, Gigila Wali, recently received her COVID-19 vaccination in Fatmilak during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in New Ireland Province in Papua New Guinea) and is relieved.

Fatmilak is a small rural community of about 200 people located about an hour and 30 minutes’ drive from Kavieng, the provincial capital of New Ireland. The community members are predominantly subsistence farmers and some of the men and women also work in the palm plantation company along the Kavieng-Namatanai Highway.

The community generally does not resist health care services but has refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 for a long time due to fears created by misinformation and myths on social media. That is until a vaccination team, comprising members from the New Ireland Provincial Health Authority’s Risk Communication and Community Engagement team and health workers from the catchment health facilities, visited them on 11 May 2022.

An excited Gigila stood out amongst other community members as the first person to come forward to get vaccinated – even before the health team finished their information sharing session about the COVID-19 vaccine to the community.

‘’I was waiting for the opportunity to get vaccinated and the coming of the team has just answered my prayers,’’ she said.

Gigila was happy to see the health team visit her community but felt that the visit should have happened earlier.

‘’This awareness and vaccination programme should have been done earlier than now. The delay allowed many community members to access misleading information about the COVID-19 vaccines which brought about hesitancy to get vaccinated for many of them,” Gigila added.

Gigila explained that she was very quick to accept the vaccine because she had read a lot about the efficacy of the vaccines and also about the elderly who easily got infected and died in other countries because they were unvaccinated. Gigila’s son, who lives abroad, had also been constantly reminding her and her husband to get vaccinated.

‘’I was already prepared to get vaccinated when the health team visited, and I am glad I am finally vaccinated!’’

Shortly after Gigila received her single dose of the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine, she confidently told the vaccination team that her community members would also get vaccinated and praised them for providing separate information sessions for men and women.  

Elderly women in Fatmilak receiving their J&J vaccine, New Ireland Province
Elderly women in Fatmilak receiving their J&J vaccine, New Ireland Province

‘’This approach you are using is very good – separating the men from the women has allowed the women to ask questions openly and get the right answers that they are seeking which had been preventing them from getting vaccinated before the team came in,’’ she stated.

‘’The members of Fatmilak who are not here today will get the message and take the right steps to get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccine is good for everyone and I encourage the rest of my community to get vaccinated when the opportunity is presented to them”, Gigila added as she offered lunch to the team to show her appreciation.

In total, Gigila and 40 other community members of Fatmilak finally got vaccinated.

Vaccination drives likes this that the Government facilitates, are being rolled out across the country by Provincial Health Authorities in 22 provinces. In New Ireland Province, UNICEF is working in partnership with Save The Children, local NGO - Touching the Untouchables and Australian Doctors International, thanks to support from Newcrest Mining, to promote social mobilization and community engagement efforts, to help increase vaccine uptake.