Ukraine throws away unused COVID-19 shots as doctors skip their own vaccinations

Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk
·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian servicemen carry a box with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Donetsk Region

By Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian medical facilities have thrown away some unused COVID-19 vaccines after doctors failed to show up for their own appointments to be vaccinated, ruling party lawmakers said on Monday.

Ukraine has just begun vaccinating its 41 million people against COVID-19 after receiving a first batch of 500,000 doses of Indian-made AstraZeneca shots last week, but faces a battle against vaccine scepticism that predates the pandemic.

The government has prioritised giving shots to frontline medical workers but cited statistics showing that 47% of Ukrainians do not want the vaccine.

"It is important for us to understand how all the processes are set up, why doctors refuse to be vaccinated," Oleksandr Korniyenko, the head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party, told a televised meeting.

"This is very bad, but there is no other option... if a person does not come, it (vaccine bottle) can be kept open for 2-3 hours, after which it must be disposed of," the head of parliament's health committee Mykhailo Radutskyi said.

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A total of 3,141 shots were administered of Feb. 28, including just 90 shots in the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said the government was working to ensure vaccines do not get thrown away, adding this also happened in other countries.

He was vaccinated on television on Monday and said Zelenskiy would take the shot soon.

"I proved by my own example that the vaccine we are vaccinated with is an absolutely safe vaccine, it is an effective vaccine," he said.

A significant part of the population of Ukraine, like many post-Soviet republics, is traditionally wary of vaccines, fearing side effects from poor quality drugs. Such mistrust allowed a measles outbreak to grow into an epidemic in 2019.

COVID-19 cases have picked up after a lull during a tight lockdown at the start of the year, especially in Kyiv and western Ukraine, where the government set up mobile hospitals to cope with a sharp spike in cases. Ukraine has registered 1.3 million cases with 26,050 deaths from COVID-19 as of March 1.

In the northern city of Chernihiv, only 87 out of 280 doctors agreed to be vaccinated, the secretary of the city council said in a Facebook post on Feb 24.

(Editing by Matthias Williams and Peter Graff)