An experiment in Ukraine that pursued an aggressive campaign to vaccinate most inhabitants of one small town has yielded the expected results: very low infection rates and no hospitalizations for Covid-19.
In April, when Ukraine was still short on vaccines, only certain categories of the population, like teachers and doctors, were allowed to get vaccinations. But the Health Ministry made an exception for the town of Morshyn, in western Ukraine, allowing local health authorities to attempt to vaccinate all 6,000 residents.
Morshyn was chosen partly because its economy, which depends on tourism to resorts and spas, had essentially shut down because of the pandemic, and because it was thought people would be receptive to vaccination so they could resume working.
The plan was to give 70 percent of the town a first dose of vaccine in one month. But despite the economic incentive, distrust in vaccines was an obstacle. Nationwide, 56 percent of Ukrainians still say they will not be vaccinated.
Morshyn’s authorities went on the offensive.
“We realized that we need to call each person individually,” Dr. Henadiy Yukshynsky, the town’s chief doctor, said in an interview with local media. “We created five special teams that called people and explained to everyone the need for vaccination.”
The local authorities posted billboards, set up tents with information tables inside, made videos for social networks and the news media, and created handouts advocating vaccination.
In the end, it took two months to vaccinate 72 percent of the town’s residents, far more than Ukraine’s nationwide rate of 16 percent, which is the lowest in Europe.
Across the country, infections and hospitalizations are soaring, with an average of 21,364 new cases a day over the past week. The death rate in Ukraine is higher now than during the first wave of Covid-19, with an average of 538 deaths per day. Panic is beginning to take hold, and more areas of the country have been designated “red zones” and placed under partial lockdown.
But life in Morshyn goes on as usual. It has no patients hospitalized with Covid-19 and only 19 cases of the virus, 15 of them in people who were not vaccinated.