Vaccine resistance rampant in fight against COVID-19 in Ukraine



Kiev, Ukraine (AP) – After receiving its first shipment of coronavirus vaccine, Ukraine found itself in a new fight against the pandemic – persuading its very reluctant people to be vaccinated.

Although infections are rising sharply, Ukrainians are increasingly opposing vaccination: An opinion poll released earlier this month by the Kyiv International Sociological Institute found that 60% of the country’s residents do not want to be vaccinated, compared to 40% a month earlier. . The national poll of 1,207 had a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

The resistance appears to be rooted in the long-standing suspicion of vaccines dating back to the Soviet era, amplified by politicians’ claims of shoddy vaccines, corruption scandals and misinformation spread through social media. Even more surprisingly, reluctance still arises even among those most at risk who administer life-saving drugs on a daily basis: medical workers.

In the mining town of Selydove, 700 kilometers (420 miles) east of Kiev, only 5% of medical staff agreed to be vaccinated. Among those who declined was Olena Obyedko, a 26-year-old nurse who works in the intensive care unit of the hospital for COVID-19 patients, where people die every week.

“I decided not to get the vaccine. I doubt the quality of the vaccine. I’m afraid there are side effects, ”she says.

If few people chose to be vaccinated, the mobile brigade that came to Selydove to administer them ended up being vaccinated so as not to waste the vaccine.

“Such a small number of people vaccinated is associated with low confidence in the vaccine that entered Ukraine,” Brigade Chief Olena Marchenko said of the AstraZeneca vaccine which was made in India. “This is due to prejudices and information disseminated on social networks. People read a lot, they have a negative attitude towards the Indian vaccine. “

Prominent politicians have fueled this suspicion.

Former President Petro Poroshenko told parliament this month that he asked doctors in one region why there was resistance to vaccination and was told: “Because they brought Fuck. And they brought it because of corruption and incompetence.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko added to the discontent by demanding that parliament pass a law to grant government compensation to those who face the side effects of vaccines.

The vaccine corruption scandals had started even before the arrival of the first doses in the country. Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau said it had opened an investigation into a September deal to purchase 1.9 million doses of China’s Sinovac vaccine at 504 hryvna ($ 18) per dose. Its Chinese manufacturers have not published full reports on its effectiveness, and a study in Brazil said it was only 50% effective.

“These attacks have consequences that will affect all Ukrainians,” Health Minister Maxim Stepanov said. “We are talking about an attempt to disrupt the vaccination campaign in Ukraine.”

Ukraine received its first shipment of vaccine – 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca – at the end of February. Yet only around 23,500 people have been vaccinated since then.

During this same period, up to 10,000 new infections per day were recorded. Overall, the country of 41 million people has recorded 1.4 million infections and more than 28,000 deaths.

The health minister said that only around 40% of medical workers treating coronavirus patients have agreed to receive the vaccine.

Speaking in parliament, Oleksandr Kornienko, a prominent member of the People’s Servant faction of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said medical institutions have been forced to destroy many doses of the vaccine – which can only be kept for a few hours after l opening a vial – because the medical professionals who were prescribed vaccines did not show up.

“Now they are forced to destroy the coveted vaccine because they are not giving it to people on time,” Kornienko said.

Zelenskiy, who contracted the virus in November, tried to encourage vaccination by getting vaccinated publicly.

“The vaccine will allow us to live again without restrictions,” Zelensky said. “I think this vaccine is of high quality, it is one of the best in the world.”

However, its action seems to have had little effect.

The country has designated 14,000 doses of its first shipment of vaccines for the military, especially those fighting Russian-backed separatists in the east. But only 1,030 soldiers have been vaccinated to date.

In the frontline town of Krasnohorivka, soldiers largely refused to vaccinate.

“I have little confidence in a pandemic, I don’t think it’s a serious illness,” said Serhiy Kochuk, a 25-year-old soldier. “I am in good health, but the vaccine can cause illness. You can get sick with this vaccine. “

The head of the Kiev Institute of Sociology, Volodymyr Paniotto, told The Associated Press that a recent decline in the popularity of Zelenskiy’s government has contributed to vaccine resistance.

“The Ukrainians’ super-critical attitude towards the authorities has superimposed itself on the struggle of politicians and the information war, which has led to massive mistrust in society,” he said.

Ukrainians have been skeptical of any vaccination since Soviet times. In 2019, the country experienced the largest measles outbreak in Europe due to widespread refusals to get the measles vaccine.

“Over the past 20 years, Ukraine has been one of the European countries most opposed to vaccination as such,” said Vadym Denysenko, analyst at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future.

The United Nations Development Program says the country suffers from an “info-demic” of vaccine misinformation and has called on the government to step up its fight.

“Conspiracy theories, rumors and malicious disinformation can quickly go viral on social media, especially when there is a low level of public trust in state institutions,” he said. .


Mstyslav Chernov in Selydove, Ukraine, and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this story.


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