By Andriy Perun and Margaryta Chornokondratenko
MORSHYN, Ukraine – Ukraine is battling record COVID-19 deaths and low vaccine uptake but the spa town of Morshyn is an exception.
In Morshyn, 74% of 3,439 adult residents are double vaccinated, more than triple the national average, and currently only three people have been hospitalised with COVID-19.
The town, which gives its name to a popular mineral water brand, has come to national attention at a time when hospitals in Ukrainian cities are filling up with COVID-19 patients and the country had to import medical oxygen from Poland.
Located in the Carpathian foothills, Morshyn’s economy is dependent on tourists visiting its hotels and sanatoriums and was hit badly by the first wave of lockdowns last year, Mayor Ruslan Ilnytsky told Reuters.
In a bid to avoid more economic losses, he lobbied the national government to provide the town with enough vaccines to inoculate all residents and the local authorities launched a campaign urging people to get vaccinated.
“Since Morshyn is a small town, we could watch each other and see if there would be any side effects of the vaccine,” Ilnytsky said.
“There were no negative consequences,” he said. “So people calmed down, got vaccinated and are glad now.”
Ukraine is one of several countries in former communist eastern Europe where vaccination rates are among the continent’s lowest. Less than a fifth of the population of around 41 million has been fully vaccinated.
An October poll by the Rating research agency showed 43% of Ukrainians were not ready to take a vaccine. Hundreds of people staged an anti-vaccination protest on Wednesday, blocking traffic in central Kyiv.
To encourage uptake, the government has made it mandatory for some state workers to get vaccinated. In “red” zone areas, only people with vaccine certificates or negative COVID test results can enter restaurants or use public transport.
“We did not and do not want to introduce lockdown,” Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said last week. “The example of Morshyn and some communities with a high level of vaccination proves the effectiveness and efficiency of vaccines.”
Doctors in Morshyn say tourists and people from other towns in the region also come to the town for vaccinations.
Andriy Mysiv, general manager of the Morshyn hotel and health centre “Saint Charbel”, said: “While the whole map of Ukraine turns red and the number of safe coronavirus-free areas is decreasing, no single coronavirus case was reported among our guests during the last half a year or even more.”
(Writing by Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Editing by Matthias Williams and Alison Williams)