MORSHYN, Ukraine – A small spa town in western Ukraine stands out in a European country where only 29% of the population has received COVID-19 vaccines, and locals attribute their community spirit to to have pushed back the worst of the pandemic.
In Morshyn, a picturesque town nestled at the foot of the Carpathians in the Lviv region, 74% of its 3,439 inhabitants had been fully vaccinated by the end of November.
As Ukrainian authorities have imposed further restrictions amid a wave of infections and deaths blamed on a slow rate of vaccination and have designated the area around Morshyn as a “red zone” where most public places have been closed, the Morshyn Wellness Centers remained fully open.
Morshyn’s mineral water has made it a European attraction since the 19th century, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. More than 2,800 of its residents are currently employed by 10 different spas, which only accept clients with certificates proving vaccination, recovery from a past COVID-19 disease, or a negative test.
“I was planning to travel somewhere this year and chose Morshyn when I learned that many people here were vaccinated,” said Valentyna Panchuk, a retiree visiting the city.
All of these factors help keep the city buzzing and the people working.
“After the mass vaccinations in Morshyn, there were no more seriously ill coronavirus patients,” said Ukrainian Minister of Health Viktor Lyashko. “There was one report of only one hospitalization, and that person was not vaccinated.”
Morshyn, who has not seen any COVID-19-related deaths in the past six months, has been touted by Ukrainian authorities as a role model for the rest of the country.
Doctors attribute the Ukrainian public’s reluctance to mistrust of the government and vaccine lies about injections that contain microchips or cause infertility. They say Morshyn residents are infected with COVID-19, but those who are vaccinated have mild cases that do not require hospitalization.
“Not only does the vaccination of two-thirds of the population, but the long distances keep people from getting infected,” said Dr Gennady Yukshinsky, chief medical officer at Morshyn hospital. “Testing is widespread, and if a COVID-19 infection is detected, the (infected) person is voluntarily self-isolating, including accountability to other residents. “
According to Yukshinsky, there were 14 active cases of COVID-19 in Morshyn at the end of November, all of them mild.
The Ukrainian government has demanded that teachers, doctors, government employees and other workers be fully immunized by December 1. It has also started requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for long-distance plane, train and bus travel. .
The move sparked protests in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where thousands of people gathered to protest the restrictions.
In Morshyn, mass vaccinations have saved its residents from losing their jobs amid the fall wave of new infections.
The mayor of Morshyn, Ruslan Ilnytsky, was among the first to be vaccinated. He said during a nationwide lockdown in the spring, the city suffered an economic blow when all of its spas were closed. He said he realized then that Morshyn was unlikely to survive another lockdown and carried out a vaccination campaign last summer in anticipation of a new wave of infections as the cold forced people to stay inside.
“We have launched a pilot project for simultaneous vaccination of the entire adult population,” Ilnytsky told The Associated Press. “Family physicians called residents, personally inviting them to be vaccinated and offering safety guarantees. I think it played a big role.
Yukshinsky, the head of Morshyn hospital, also stressed the importance of the personalized approach, adding that “it has had a great effect, and people have been vaccinated en masse.”
It differs greatly from the rest of Ukraine.
A national survey conducted last month by the polling company Rating showed that 43% of those polled did not want to be vaccinated. The poll of 2,500 people had a margin of error of no more than 2 percentage points.
“The risks of misinformation about vaccinations have never been higher – nor the stakes,” Sahin said. “This is why in 2021, we need a stronger, more robust effort to fight rumors, fake news and disinformation than ever before.”
Karmanau reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Yefrem Lukatsky in Morshyn, Ukraine, contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s stories about the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.