Misinformation, public distrust hampering Ukraine’s sluggish vaccine campaign

Kiev, Mar 16 (efe-epa).- Ukraine’s coronavirus vaccination campaign has been delayed and hampered by issues accessing the jabs, public distrust and misinformation, a mix that has meant 62,000 Ukrainians — only 0.15 percent of the total population — have been inoculated.

The health ministry insists that the rollout, which began on February 24, is going “as planned”, despite the fact that only 258,000 citizens out of 40 million had registered to get vaccinated as of Monday, deputy health minister Yaroslav Kucher said.

There has been widespread criticism in Ukraine of the campaign’s sluggish start, which has been linked both to poor organization and to widespread refusals to get the jab among priority groups that include healthcare workers, military and people over 80.

According to Ukraine’s chief state sanitary doctor, Viktor Liashko, only one in four medical staff in Covid wards across the country as well as 30 percent of laboratories and 20 percent of ambulance (ER) workers were vaccinated in the first 10 days of the campaign.

Last week, three hospitals in the Western Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi, one of the most affected by Covid, reported massive refusals to vaccinate among its staff. Deputy head of Chernivtsi regional administration Nataliya Husak said on March 11 that in one of the city hospitals not a single member of medical staff was willing to get vaccinated.

In an interview with Ukrayinska Pravda, Liashko defended the medics, saying that some of those refusing vaccinations have already had Covid.

“We recommend delaying vaccination for six months if you have already had the disease and have antibodies”’ he said. “People might have been feeling unwell or were absent that day,” Liashko added, noting that some medics who haven’t yet received their jabs could do so later.

Ukraine currently only has the AstraZeneca vaccine at its disposal; it is still awaiting delivery of 8 million doses from the World Health Organisation’s Covax distribution mechanism and a delivery of 1.9 million doses of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine as well.

The country has refused to add the Russian-made Sputnik V over the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the subsequent war in eastern Ukraine.

According to a Gallup poll last month, 65% of Ukrainians were willing to get the Covid vaccine if it was safe, efficient and free of charge.

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