Saturday, January 22

As infections rise, Poland struggles to counter anti-vax sentiment

When 83-year-old Hanna Zientara emerged from freezing temperatures at a vaccination center in Warsaw to receive a booster shot against COVID-19, her 30-year-old grandson was starting a vacation in Tenerife, unvaccinated and stubbornly refusing. his repeated pleas for protection.

“He said, ‘No matter what you tell me, I will not get vaccinated.’ You can’t do anything, “he said.

Poland and several other Central and Eastern European countries are battling a massive increase in infections and deaths caused by the transmissible delta variant.

Now they face the specter of another variant, omicron, with much lower vaccination rates in Western Europe.

In Russia, the death toll peaked at more than 1,200 people a day for several days in late November and stands at more than 1,100 a day.

Ukraine is coming off its highest death toll in the pandemic, but it still records hundreds of deaths a day.

Meanwhile, the death rate in Poland, although lower than its peak in the spring, has been more than 500 deaths per day in recent days and has not yet peaked.

Intensive care units are full and doctors report that more and more children require hospitalization.

The situation has created a dilemma for a government that has urged citizens to get vaccinated but is clearly concerned about alienating voters who oppose vaccine mandates or any restrictions on economic life.

Facing a healthcare system that is already on edge, Polish Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska announced Tuesday that authorities will demand that doctors and other doctors, along with teachers and uniformed workers such as the police, the army and the firefighters, be vaccinated before March 1. .

Critics of the government denounced the move as too little and too late, while a far-right party, Confederation, said it went too far, describing the plan as a step toward “healthcare segregation” or a system that discriminates against those who are not. vaccinated.

On Tuesday, when Zientara received her booster with the Pfizer vaccine, the government reported 504 more deaths, bringing the death toll to more than 86,000 in the nation from 38 million.

Sitting nearby was Andrzej Wiazecki, a 56-year-old man who did not need to be convinced to receive a booster injection.

He has several friends hospitalized with COVID-19, including a 32-year-old man who was previously healthy and athletic and who is now fighting for his life.

Wiazecki believes his friend will likely die, “especially since there is no place for him in the intensive care unit because there are so many patients that he is lying somewhere in a hallway,” he said.

Wiazecki said his friend did not want to be vaccinated, and his friend’s brothers have not softened their stance on receiving the jab either, despite their plight.

Vaccine resistance in Eastern Europe is based on mistrust of pharmaceutical companies and government authorities, while misinformation also appears to be playing a role.

With 54% of Poles fully vaccinated, the country can boast a higher rate than some countries in the region.

Ukraine’s vaccination rate is only 27% and Russia’s is 41% even though the country has produced its own vaccines, including Sputnik V.

Bulgaria, which like Poland belongs to the European Union, has a vaccination rate of 26%, the lowest in the bloc.

Fears have risen recently due to reports of the omicron variant.

Although it has not yet been confirmed in Poland, experts believe that it is probably already circulating.

According to Polish media reports, fears sparked by omicron have led some to finally choose to receive their first vaccinations in the southern mountainous region of Podhale, where vaccination rates are well below the national average.

But in the Warsaw vaccination center, located in a blood donation center, there were not many newbies.

At 10 a.m., the center’s coordinator, Paula Rekawek, said that only one person had received a first injection that morning.

The high level of vaccine resistance has become a business opportunity for restaurateur Artur Jarczynski at his popular restaurant “Der Elefant” in central Warsaw, the first restaurant in Poland to require diners to show proof of vaccination to Enterokay.

‘No need for government orders’

While traveling in Western Europe, Jarczynski saw that requiring proof of vaccination for dinner was the norm in some countries, including France.

When he first introduced it to his Warsaw restaurant, he was bombarded by hateful phone calls and messages for a couple of days.

But not from her regular clientele, who were grateful for a place where they could feel safe.

On Tuesday, business was buoyant, with customers ordering steaks, fish, and other dishes.

And one diner, Ryszard Kowalski, appreciated the sense of security he felt in knowing that everyone around him was vaccinated and said it was proof that “there is no need for government orders” to create safe environments.

But Jarczynski has yet to dare to impose the vaccine requirement on several other Warsaw restaurants he owns.

He described Der Elefant as “an island in a country of almost 40 million people, which on the one hand makes us happy, but also saddens us that we are such a small island.”

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