WARSAW, Poland (AP) – As 83-year-old Hanna Zientara endured below-freezing temperatures to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Warsaw, her 30-year-old grandson began a vacation in the Canary Islands without being vaccinated and stubbornly refusing that of his grandmother. repeated calls for protection.
“I worry about him, but I have no influence on him. None, ”Zientara said. “He has a lot of doctor friends who don’t get the shot, and he says if they don’t get the shot, he doesn’t have to. “
Poland and several other countries in central and eastern Europe are battling their latest outbreaks of coronavirus cases and deaths while continuing to experience much lower vaccination rates than in Western Europe.
In Russia, more than 1,200 people with COVID-19 have died every day for most of November and several days in December, and the daily death toll remains above 1,100. Ukraine, which records hundreds of deaths from the virus a day, emerging from its deadliest period of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the death rate in Poland, although lower than it was in the spring, has recently climbed to more than 500 deaths per day and still has not peaked. The country reported 592 more virus deaths on Wednesday, the highest number in its current wave and bringing the pandemic death toll to nearly 87,000 in a country of 38 million.
Intensive care units are full and doctors are reporting more and more children need hospitalization, including some who have gone through COVID-19 without symptoms but subsequently suffered strokes.
The situation has created a dilemma for the Polish government, which has urged citizens to get vaccinated but is clearly concerned about alienating voters who oppose vaccination mandates or any restrictions on economic life.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki publicly received his vaccine booster last week and urged others to get vaccinated to protect the elderly on Christmas. He noted that some family reunions during the pandemic “ended tragically, ended with the departure of our grandfathers, grandmothers”.
To promote vaccines, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski pointed out on Monday that of the 1,085 people under the age of 44 who have died from COVID-19 so far this year in Poland, only 3% were fully vaccinated. “This dark statistic could be different thanks to vaccinations,” he said.
With a healthcare system already stretched to its limits, the Polish government announced on Tuesday that it is requiring doctors, other medical personnel, teachers and uniformed workers like police, military and firefighters to be vaccinated. here March 1..
Critics of the right-wing government denounced the measure as too little too late, while a far-right Confederation party criticized it as discriminating against unvaccinated Poles.
Resistance vaccines in Eastern Europe is rooted in mistrust of drug companies and government authorities, while disinformation also appears to play a role.
While worried grandmother Zientara received a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday, the Polish government reported 504 deaths.
Sitting nearby was Andrzej Wiazecki, a 56-year-old man who didn’t need to be convinced to come in for the shot. He said he had several friends hospitalized with COVID-19, including a previously healthy and athletic 32-year-old man who is fighting for his life.
“I expect him to die, especially since there is no room for him in the intensive care unit because there are so many patients that he is lying somewhere in a hallway, ”he said.
“He didn’t want to get the shot,” Wiazecki said. “His siblings are also not vaccinated, and even though he is dying, they still do not want to be vaccinated. “
With 54% of Poles fully vaccinated, the country has a higher coronavirus inoculation rate than some neighboring countries. The vaccination rate in Ukraine is 27% and in Russia, where locally developed vaccines like Sputnik V are offered, it is around 41%. Bulgaria, which like Poland belongs to the European Union, has a vaccination rate of 26%, the lowest in the bloc.
The discovery of the omicron variant last month fueled fears in Poland, where experts believe the variant is probably already circulating although no cases have been confirmed. Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes more serious illness and to what extent it could evade disease immunity or past COVID-19 vaccines.
According to Polish media, the emergence of the variant has led some resistance fighters to finally receive their first vaccines, especially in the southern mountainous region of Podhale, where vaccination rates are well below the national average.
But at the Warsaw vaccination center, located in a blood donation center, there were not many new arrivals. Coordinator Paula Rekawek said only one person showed up in the first three hours of the center on Tuesday to request an initial dose.
Warsaw restaurateur Artur Jarczynski has found a business opportunity in the high level of vaccine resistance. Its popular Der Elefant was the first restaurant in Poland, and until recently the only one, to require customers to present proof of vaccination to enter.
Jarczynski said that during a trip to Western Europe, he was asked for proof of vaccination for dinner and thought it was good practice. When he first introduced the requirement in Der Elefant, the anti-vaccine demonstrators in front of Parliament demonstrated their protest in his restaurant and he got police protection. Jarczynski says he was also bombarded with hate phone calls for a few days.
Still, many guests appreciate the rare public space where they can feel safe and secure while enjoying a meal, such as mussel soup, steaks, and other entrees served for Tuesday lunch. A guest, Ryszard Kowalski, said he liked knowing everyone around him was vaccinated, but the restaurant’s policy was proof “that there is no need for government orders” to create environments sure.
But Jarczynski has not yet dared to impose the vaccination obligation in several other restaurants in Warsaw that he owns.
He described Der Elefant as “an island in a country of almost 40 million people, which makes us happy, but also sad that we are such a small island”.
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