The Road to re-open our borders

They say a journey begins with a single step. But as any marathon runner will tell you – it is not the first steps that are the hardest – it is the last steps as they sprint to the finish exhausted. This is where the world is at the moment. We in Vanuatu are in the same place.

Although as an island nation we have been able to avoid sickness and death, we have done it at a cost to the economy. Jobs have been lost and businesses have closed. This cost has been for the most part suffered in silence, understanding that our health is more important than money. But now the finish line is in sight. The tool to open up the economy and stay healthy has been provided by the world’s smartest epidemiologists, virologists and infectiologists. It’s called a Vaccine.
Since 1880, when Louis Pasteur created the vaccine for cholera, we have become familiar with Vaccines. We have had them for chickenpox, diphtheria, hepatitis, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, smallpox, tetanus, tuberculosis, yellow fever, whooping cough and many other severe diseases.
These vaccines have prevented millions of deaths worldwide. They have been administered and taken with minimum concerns – until now. What is it about this one?
Well, it didn’t help when the leader of the free world (Trump) claimed that Covid-19 does not exist and that we should all drink bleach or take horse worm tablets! He gets vaccinated himself but keeps it a secret!
For those of us who have routinely taken vaccinations at school or before travel – this is madness.
The fact is, if we don’t reach our target in Vanuatu for Vaccinations, we cannot open the borders to accept tourists, travel ourselves or receive overseas health care.
There are some who say we don’t need

tourism. The economy is doing fine without it. This is a ludicrous assumption based on income from selling citizenships, overseas aid and money coming back from overseas workers. This is not an economy. No goods or services are being produced and it is certainly not sustainable.
What happens if all those passport holders decide to move here? What will Vanuatu look like? Ask yourself why anybody wants a spare passport anyway. What are they afraid of in their own country that they are willing pay so much for another passport?
I have reached out to different sectors of the industry and they are all waiting for the opening of borders. Not one of them reports that the economy is doing fine. Hospitality is down by 90%, the finance sector is down by 70%, the auto dealerships and repairs sector is down by 50%. These are massive drops that are unsustainable when the financial reserves dry up.
So, the finish line is in sight – but like a marathon runner – it is the last 100 meters that is the hardest.
Efate’s vaccination rate is currently 82% one dose and 55% two doses. So it is reasonable to assume that most who have had the single dose will turn up for the second. The estimate is that we should be 82% in 11 weeks.
A good effort by the Ministry of Health – but it is the last 8% that will be the hardest due to an anti-vaxxing sentiment that has resulted either from religious belief or the abundance of misinformation being spread by unqualified persons on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Remember, anybody can say anything on these platforms with very little fact checking.
Apart from this we have some people, government members amongst them, saying they haven’t been given enough information. Remarkable really since there has never been a subject that has so much written about as Covid-19.
I suggest that they look up the WHO website. There, in the one location, is everything anyone needs to know and more. The fact is that most of us who are not doctors could not understand the working of vaccinations or antibiotics or even a Panadol tablet. We wouldn’t even know the meaning of the words used. We take them because experts in health tell us to. Do you say to your doctor, “I’m not taking the antibiotic because I don’t know how it was made or what is in it”? Of course, we don’t.
For Efate, the troubling statistics are relative to the demographic of the vaccination take-up. 6,000 of 18-34 years old are still unvaccinated across Efate. We need to reach out to them in a way that they would relate to in order to induce a higher take-up.
A couple of weeks ago I organized the Pango Beach Party and now Pango is one of the highest vaccinated areas. The Ministry of Health is currently looking at different ideas to achieve this. Maybe another party in the areas of Black Sands, Ohlen and Eton. These are the areas least vaccinated.
One idea that is currently on the agenda is to open up on weekends. This would achieve an immediate take-up for those who can’t leave work during the week to be vaccinated. For this, the MoH needs the support of the private sector to pay the overtime wages of the weekend staff.
I have some funds that we raised for the Pango Beach Party that are being contributed to this initiative – but we need more. Any business or individual who can contribute to this fund, please call me at 7754545 or email [email protected] .
After Efate and Santo reach their targets to reopen the borders, how will the Government react to the other Provinces where it is virtually impossible to reach the 90% target? I had a friend visit Anitryum – nobody there is vaccinated and apparently nobody there intends to be a vaccinated in the belief that God will look after them.
There will be more of this as we move from the capitals into the islands. How is the government going to react? Is there anyone who will stand up and open the borders of Efate, Santo and possibly Tanna when there are pockets of reluctance that cannot be re-educated?
Certainly, there is a blueprint for this. You need only look to Australia. States closed the borders to other states that had Covid-19 community spread cases and reopened when those states got it under control. I’m afraid unless we have such leaders – we will be closed to the outside world for many years to come!
The other avenue is to mandate Vaccinations. This a move that is full of controversy in a democratic country – but which is happening all over the world.

Do we have such brave politicians here? Only time will tell…

Paul Vogelsberger. Bachelor of Commerce.
Owner, Nasama Resort