Andrea Surette, FHI 360
Isaac Wek, FHI 360
Annemarie Paul, FHI 360

The Central Dabaris, a popular premier rugby league club in Papua New Guinea (PNG), took a stand against COVID-19. Both players and officials were vaccinated at the Sogeri Health Centre in Central Province during an event coordinated by the Central Provincial Health Authority (PHA) and the USAID-supported Meeting Targets and Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC) project. The goal of the event was to boost COVID-19 vaccine confidence, not only in Central Province but across PNG, where rugby league is the national sport.

Vaccine hesitancy due to misinformation continues to be a huge barrier to COVID-19 vaccine uptake in PNG, resulting in one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination coverage rates in the world (<5%). Building vaccine confidence, particularly among the younger demographic, remains a challenge.  Vaccine champions among local sports teams can help raise awareness and boost vaccine confidence.

This event follows extensive community engagement and COVID-19 vaccine awareness activities implemented by the Sogeri Health Centre with support from the EpiC project, and is part of a larger community engagement strategy to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake through sports. Rugby league in particular provides an opportunity to reach a broad audience with positive vaccination messaging.

Very few sports teams — especially at the elite level of the National Rugby League — have stood up as vaccine champions. Through consistent and targeted messaging, the partnership between EpiC and the Central PHA was successful in reaching this group of influencers who now have the potential to play a key role in promoting vaccination in Central Province and throughout PNG. The EpiC project will continue to partner with the Central Dabaris rugby club management and players during community engagement events to promote vaccination uptake.

This group of elite sportsmen are now COVID-19 vaccination champions and have pledged to continue to raise awareness and educate their communities on the importance of getting vaccinated (Photo Credit: EpiC Papua New Guinea).