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Measles vs. anti-vaxxing: Tug of war in Ukraine

Author : Natalia Lebed

Over the past seven months, 56,861 people were affected in Ukraine
20:23, 20 August 2019

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More than 50 thousand patients

112.ua appealed to the Ministry of Health to find out the latest statistics on measles cases. Natalia Ostropolets, Acting Director of the Department for the Implementation of Policies of the Ministry of Health, answered in an official letter that during 31st week of 2019, 287 people got measles - 160 adults and 127 children. Over the past seven months (from December 28, 2018, to August 2, 2019), 56,861 people were affected. Here, unfortunately, children prevail (30,100). In total, since the outbreak of the epidemic (that is, since mid-2017), measles has affected 115,000 people. 39 of them died, while 18 deaths occurred in the last year.

According to the official, Ukrainians are provided with vaccines. Moreover, not Indian, which are extremely unpopular among the population, but those produced in Belgium and the US. As of August 1, 2019, there were 607,918 of vaccines in the hospitals. This is a preventative drug for measles, mumps, and rubella. We also asked about the status of the diphtheria vaccine. However, the Ministry of Health did not answer this question. The department only noted that the situation with diphtheria vaccination is deplorable because it covers only 70% of children and 50% of adults.

Related: Ukraine wrestles with measles as cases rise 300 percent worldwide

As for measles, the situation with vaccination is better here. In 2019, 91% of children were vaccinated (in 2016, for comparison, there were only 44.5% of them). At the same time, 67.5% of children were vaccinated against whooping cough, diphtheria, and tetanus (21% in 2016). Statistics on tuberculosis: 84% this year against 72.3% in 2016. 65.2% of infants were vaccinated against hepatitis B; 69.2% and 60.8% of children were vaccinated against poliomyelitis in 2019 and 2016, respectively.

The reason for the astronomical number of measles patients in the Ministry of Health is considered to be a huge number of unvaccinated people. But another interpretation is possible. The spread of the disease is probably a direct result of the elimination of the sanitary and epidemiological service and the lack of epidemiological surveillance. Cases of poisoning cases in public catering facilities, in particular in children's camps, have become more frequent in recent years. According to the WHO, poor nutrition kills about 500,000 people annually. If even ten years ago in Ukraine 35-50 outbreaks of poisoning were recorded per year, today this numbed reached 200.

Related: 70 percent of all measles cases in Europe observed in Ukraine, - WHO

But back to measles. “Now there is a problem in Kyiv, and it is more about adults than about children. We urge people to get vaccinated if they don’t know whether they were vaccinated before. Now in everyone is allowed to receive the vaccine free of charge from their family doctor," Ulyana Suprun, acting Minister of Healthcare, says.

According to her, the main problem is that vaccines in Ukraine were put on a long pause. "Now more than 90% of children under one year of age are vaccinated, and there are 86%those who are vaccinated at the age of six years. But for the last ten years, there has been a very low level of vaccination in Ukraine, people were not vaccinated. And before that, for another 10 years, the vaccines were not effective because they were either produced poorly or did not stick to the cold chain when stored,” Suprun said.

A “cold chain" is maintaining the proper temperature at all stages of transporting the vaccine. According to Suprun, now in every medical institution, there is a refrigerator where the vaccine is stored. The Ministry of Health supposedly conducted an audit and recounted all the refrigerators. Therefore, now you can safely be vaccinated.

Related: Three-month-old child dies from measles in Ukraine's Rivne

But Ukrainians (at least some of them) do not want to do this. According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), there are two main reasons why the population refuses vaccinations: 1) distrust of doctors and/or the conditions in which vaccines are stored, doubts about their quality; 2) fear of developing a full-fledged disease or the side effects of vaccination.

As for the distrust of doctors, it partly has a political component. To understand why this is so, it is worth recalling the events of the last ten years. Why exactly ten? Because back in 2008, the vaccination rate for children was quite high. In the same year, UNICEF delivered a certain amount of vaccines to Ukraine. This immediately led to the struggle of those companies concerned with maintaining power on the market at that time. A negative publicity campaign was launched against UNICEF vaccines. The level of distrust of the population began to grow.

Several years passed, and in 2014, the Revolution of Dignity took place. Power has changed, but vaccine purchases are again in the midst of the scandal. Oleg Musiy, the then-Minister of Health, failed to hold the tenders for the purchase of vaccines in the right amount on time. Then for about six months, there have not been preventive drugs in the country at all. This has negatively affected the vaccination rate.

In 2015, the Ministry of Health set about purchasing vaccines through international organizations. But it was not possible to quickly switch to a new procurement format. The process of preparing the necessary regulatory acts have lasted almost for eight months. To date, the situation with the purchase and supply of vaccines has stabilized. However, the level of vaccination of children continues to be quite low, including due to the high level of mistrust of people and negative information campaigns.

Related: Over 56,000 people sickened with measles in Ukraine in 2019

The consequences would come soon

The surge in confidence in vaccination was observed not only in Ukraine. The determining factor in refusing vaccinations in the world was not distrust of medical workers, but fears about negative consequences. So, in Japan, in the 1970s, vaccinations of children under two years of age were canceled. It was about the syndrome of the sudden death of babies, neurological lesions, epilepsy.

Subsequently, however, the Japanese saw that the number of these diseases did not decrease due to the cancellation of the vaccine. So Japan returned to vaccination from the first months of the baby's life. Sweden experienced a similar experience of its time, where for some time the vaccination against pertussis was canceled because it was believed that it leads to damage to the nervous system. But the number of these disorders, despite the canceled vaccination, did not change, new cases of pertussis were added to them, and the vaccine was restored in 1996.

Related: Most severe outbreak of measles spotted in Kyiv since Ukraine's independence

Ukrainian officials have not yet proposed to fine parents, like for example, in Sweden, where a $ 500 fine is prescribed for refusing to vaccinate a child. But they are already resorting to preventive measures.

According to some doctors, when a country is ill with measles and flu at the same time, the risks to public health are growing at times. At the same time, opponents of Ulyana Suprun claim that the office for her entire cadence did not take care of providing outpatient facilities with means for quick diagnosis of influenza. But this is a completely different story...

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