Elite rugby team champions COVID-19 vaccination in Papua New Guinea

The Central Dabaris, a well-known Papua New Guinea (PNG) rugby league club, stood up to COVID-19. During an event organised by the Central Provincial Health Authority (PHA) and the USAID-supported EpiC project, both players and officials were vaccinated at the Sogeri Health Centre in Central Province. A major purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the COVID-19 vaccine and enhance vaccination rates not only in Central Province, but throughout PNG.

There is a lot of disinformation about the vaccine in PNG, which has resulted in one of the world’s lowest COVID-19 immunisation rates (5 percent). Even among those in their 20s and 30s, it’s difficult to build trust in vaccines. Local sports teams with vaccine champions can help spread the word and increase trust in vaccines.

As part of an overall community engagement plan to enhance uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine through sports, the Sogeri Health Centre has organised this event following significant community engagement and COVID-19 vaccine awareness efforts. There is a huge possibility to spread vaccination-related messages to a wide audience through rugby league.

Few sports clubs, particularly in the top echelons of the National Rugby League, can claim to be vaccination champions. As a result of the collaboration between EpiC and the Central PHA, a key influencer group in Central Province and throughout PNG has been successfully reached through continuous and targeted messaging. The EpiC project will continue to work with the Central Dabaris rugby club’s administration and players to encourage vaccination uptake during community engagement events.