MORSHYN, Ukraine — A small spa town in western Ukraine is standing out in a European country where only 29% of the people have received COVID-19 vaccine shots, and locals credit their community spirit for fending off the worst of the pandemic.
In Morshyn, a scenic town nestled at the Carpathian foothills in the Lviv region, 74% of its 3,439 residents had been fully vaccinated as of late November.
While Ukrainian authorities have imposed new restrictions amid a surge of infections and deaths blamed on a slow pace of vaccination and designated the region around Morshyn as a “red zone” where most public places have been shut down, the wellness centers in Morshyn have remained fully open.
Morshyn’s mineral water has made it a European attraction since the 19th century, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over 2,800 of its residents are currently employed by 10 different spas, which only accept guests with certificates proving vaccination, recovery from a past COVID-19 illness or a negative test.
“I was making plans to travel somewhere this year and I chose Morshyn when I learned that many people here were vaccinated,” said Valentyna Panchuk, a retiree visiting the town.
All these factors work toward the goal of keeping the town humming and people working.
“After mass vaccinations in Morshyn, there have been no gravely ill coronavirus patients there anymore,” said Ukrainian Health Minister Viktor Lyashko. “There was a report about just one hospitalization, and that person wasn’t vaccinated.”
Morshyn, which hasn’t seen any COVID-19 deaths over the past six months, has been touted by Ukrainian officials as a model for the rest of the country.
Doctors blame the public hesitancy in Ukraine on a distrust of government and on vaccine falsehoods about shots containing microchips or causing infertility. They say residents in Morshyn do get infected with COVID-19, but those who are vaccinated have mild cases that don’t require hospitalization.
“Not just immunization of two-thirds of the population, but long distances allow people to not get infected,” said Dr. Gennady Yukshinsky, chief doctor of Morshyn’s hospital. “Testing is widespread, and if a COVID-19 infection is detected, the (infected) person voluntarily self-isolates, understanding the responsibility to other residents.”
According to Yukshinsky, there were 14 active COVID-19 cases in Morshyn as of late November, all of them mild.
The Ukrainian government has required teachers, doctors, government employees and other workers to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1. It has also begun to require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for travel on planes, trains …….