With Vaccine Resistance High, Poland Faces Surge Of Deaths

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WARSAW, Dec 8 (AP): As 83-year-old Hanna Zientara endured subfreezing temperatures to get a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot in Warsaw, her 30-year-old grandson was starting a Canary Islands vacation while unvaccinated and stubbornly refusing his grandmother’s repeated pleas to protect himself.

“I am worried about him, but I have no influence over him. None,” Zientara said.

“He has many doctor friends who aren’t getting vaccinated, and he says if they aren’t getting vaccinated, then he doesn’t have to.”

Poland and several other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are battling their latest surges of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to record much lower vaccinations rates than in Western Europe.

In Russia, more than 1,200 people with COVID-19 died every day for most of November and on several days in December, and the daily death toll remains over 1,100.

Ukraine, which is recording hundreds of virus deaths a day, is emerging from its deadliest period of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the mortality rate is Poland, while lower than it was than in the spring, recently has caused more than 500 deaths per day and still has not peaked.

Intensive care units are full, and doctors report that more and more children require hospitalisation, including some who went through COVID-19 without symptoms but then suffered strokes.

The situation has created a dilemma for Poland’s government, which has urged citizens to get vaccinated but clearly worries about alienating voters who oppose vaccine mandates or any restrictions on economic life.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki received his vaccine booster publicly last week and urged others to get their shots to protect older adults at Christmas.

He noted that some family gatherings during the pandemic have “ended tragically, ended with the departure of our grandfathers, grandmothers.”

To promote vaccines, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski pointed out Monday that of the 1,085 people under age 44 who died with COVID-19 so far this year in Poland, only 3% were fully vaccinated.

“This black statistic could be different thanks to vaccinations,” he said.

With a health system already stretched to its limits, Poland’s government announced Tuesday that it is requiring doctors, other medical personnel, teachers and uniformed workers like police officers, members of the military and firefighters to be vaccinated by March 1.

Critics of the right-wing government denounced the step as too little too late, while a far-right party, Confederation, slammed it as discriminating against unvaccinated Poles.

The resistance to vaccines in Eastern Europe is rooted in distrust of pharmaceutical companies and government authorities, while disinformation also appears to be playing a role.

 

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