Jayapura, Jubi – The local governments in Papua, such as the Yapen Islands administration and the Puncak administration said they continued to promote the benefits of COVID-19 vaccine to Indigenous Papuans as hoaxes and distrust from Papuan people toward the Indonesian government had exacerbated low rates of vaccination in the region.
Head of Yapen Islands Health Agency Karolus Taniwani appealed to the public to get vaccinated, showing himself and the other Yapen Islands officials who have been vaccinated as an evidence that the vaccine was safe.
“Those of us who have been vaccinated are in good health. I invite all people in the Yapen Islands
Regency to take part in the COVID-19 vaccination,” Taniwani told Jubi in a phone call on Friday, July 30, 2021.
Taniwani also recounted his own experience of getting vaccinated. He said he got sick following the vaccination but immediately saw the doctor in the hospital for examination. Turned out the illness was caused by relapsing malaria. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Papuan people are still vulnerable to other diseases such as malaria, HIV, and hepatitis.
Coordinator of the Yapen Islands COVID-19 Task Force, Erny Renny Tania, said that her party continued to educate the people about the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the importance of adhering to the health protocols, by traveling around markets and villages by cars then spreading information through loudspeakers.
Meanwhile, Puncak Health Agency head Demus Wonda stated that the COVID-19 vaccine was not poison. “Drugs [vaccine] imported from outside Papua are not meant to kill the people but to strengthen the people through the formation of antibodies,” he said.
Taniwani echoed Wonda, saying that if it was true the COVID-19 was poison, he would have died. But the fact is, he doesn’t die after being vaccinated.
Fear that the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program would kill the Papuan people is no wonder as years of oppression, discrimination, murder, and imprisonment inflicted by the state against the Papuans have created a prolonged trauma among the people.
Benny Giay, chairman of the Kemah Injili Church Sinode of Papua, said that for the past two years, COVID-19 had been used by the Indonesian Military (TNI) and police as an excuse to disperse Papuan people’s protests against racism and the continuation of the Special Autonomy (Otsus) Law.
“Those people whom the Papuan people highly distrust should not be involved in overseeing the vaccination,” Giay said, as quoted by Project Multatuli. The Papuans, Giay said, saw the involvement of the army and police as “bad intentions” and thus, refused the vaccine.
Audryne Karma, a dentist and daughter of Papuan political figure Filep Karma, also told Project Multatuli that the distrust from the Papuan people toward the government’s health program was not only in COVID-19 vaccination. Even before the pandemic, from Karma’s own experience at least, health programs were, in the eyes of many Papuans, considered to carry a disguised mission to harm Papuans.
According to the head of Papua Health Agency, Roby Kayame, COVID-19 vaccination in the province had only reached 190,723 people for first dosage, or 13.06%, and 12,911 people (5.58%) for second dosage. Not to mention that most of them are non-Papuan people.
“The percentage of Indigenous Papuans [who get vaccinated] is very small compared to non-Papuans in some places,” Kayame said.
Jayapura, Mimika, and Merauke are areas with high vaccination rates. On the other hand, vaccination rates are still low in the mountainous areas of Lapago and Meepago. In the Saireri area, the vaccination rate in Biak Regency is much higher than Supiori, Yapen and Waropen. Vaccination rates in Boven, Mappi, and Asmat are considered high.
The Project Multatuli report also depicted the story of a mother of two in Wamena City, who was still in doubt of whether or not she would get the vaccine.
“Actually, I don’t really mind. But a lot of information circulating, some say vaccines is good and others say it’s bad, with the side effects and all kinds of things. I have other disease, so, this has also become my question. I prefer not to be vaccinated for fear that the side effects can be fatal,” she said.
She said she only obtained information about COVID-19 and the vaccination program through social media. The internet service in Wamena is very slow, making it difficult to find accurate information. As for direct information, she only heard the vaccination program from the police car that going around the villages.
“Mostly, people are terrified by the effects of the vaccine,” she said. “Indeed, from what I have seen, there has been no major dissemination about the various vaccines that have reached this small community. Which groups need vaccines? I don’t know myself. We have the right to know first, don’t we? So we can decide what to do,” she added. Her testimony shows that the low interest in vaccines is also due to the lack of information from government authorities.
Reporter: Hengky Yeimo