Vaccination is crucial for a country to be able to put the pandemic behind it. But the slow pace of vaccination throughout Eastern Europe means that the pandemic may return in full force this autumn. In Ukraine, our correspondent is trying to find out why the willingness to vaccinate is low even among the young and well-educated.
After the cut-off about vaccines in early 2021 sees the availability of vaccines better out in Europe: At the time of writing, the EU has given at least one dose to 65% of its population. However, the situation is different in Eastern Europe: the corresponding figures for Moldova are 26%, for Belarus 17%, and for Ukraine only 13%.
How did Ukraine end up here? Vaccination is undoubtedly the government's priority: Minister of Health Maxim Stepanov got fired due to the slow procurement of vaccines. That problem is now solves, but many of the vaccine doses received are not used, if one compares the deliveries with the vaccination rate. When I spent the summer in the capital Kiev, I used to bring up this topic with everyone I talk to. All are young university-educated Ukrainians, so the willingness to vaccinate should be high: everyone understands how vaccines work. But I discovered that very few have been vaccinated. How is it that?
A problem that is often mentioned is about the vaccines that Ukraine ordered: i beginning there was only AstraZeneca's vaccine and the Chinese Sinovac. Sinovacs relative low efficiency (50 percent) is a concern, and the side effects of AstraZeneca are well known. Pfizer-BioNTechs and Moderna vaccines are also available, but vaccines are not always available.
The coronavirus is also not perceived as a threat of many young Ukrainians. That it was possible to organize a large music festival, Atlas Weekend 2021, with hundreds of thousands of visitors for a whole week in July in the capital, says a lot about the attitude to the corona virus. I went to the festival myself with two friends, and none of them have been vaccinated. One of them worked as a volunteer and talked to hundreds of visitors every day. Are you worried? did I ask. She smiled, shrugged and continued talking to new visitors.
The cumbersome booking system also creates problems. I was often told that people do not understand how to book an appointment. The alternative is to go to a vaccination clinic and queue, but there is no guarantee that you will actually receive a dose of vaccine before the clinic closes. A company can contact the authorities to vaccinate its employees, but Valeria, who works for the news site Golos Ukraini (Ukraine's Voice), was still not allowed to be vaccinated. Since only 4 out of 80 employees were interested, so it was canceled.
But there seems to be another obstacle. Why not take Sinovac when it would still reduce the likelihood of getting sick by 50 percent? Why not queue in any case to get vaccinated against a deadly virus? Why not get vaccinated to protect the elderly, even if the virus is not a threat to oneself? I have used these arguments without success.
There are many indications that the biggest real obstacle is mistrust against authorities. Corruption is a major problem that has been around for decades, according to Transparency International. Also Ukrainian presidents has been involved. As a result, many Ukrainians do not trust the authorities. This also applies to the vaccination program. This is a well known problems globally, including in western countries: low trust in authorities leads to low willingness to vaccinate.
- It was very difficult to convince my grandmother and grandmother to get vaccinated. It took a long time to make them understand that covid-19 is a real threat, not just a fabrication. The problem is that you can not see the virus with your own eyes, says Daria, who studied biology in Ukraine.
This mistrust is a big challenge, and can sometimes be comical. A friend who lives in Kiev says:
- Why should I go and get vaccinated? They might inject me with water to make me think I'm vaccinated. How do you know you got a real vaccine… or just water?
We changed subject and continued our walk in the park.
Not everyone agrees with her: there are still many Ukrainians who trust the vaccine and who have been vaccinated. The statistics clearly show this. But the experience from andra countries indicate that it is not enough. The world has invented a powerful weapon against covid-19, but the task now is even more difficult: to convince the entire population to use it.