| 18 May 2024, Saturday |

EU plans to buy measles, polio vaccines for Ukraine refugees

EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said on Tuesday that the EU plans to acquire and distribute vaccines against measles, polio, TB, and COVID-19 to immunize Ukrainian children and other unvaccinated Ukrainian immigrants.

According to UN estimates, the number of Ukrainians fleeing abroad has surpassed 3 million, with half of them being minors, over three weeks after a Russian invasion (UNHCR). They’ve primarily gone to European Union countries, with many more on the way.

“Vaccination coverage in Ukraine was very low for several vaccine-preventable diseases, especially for children, such as tuberculosis, polio, measles, but also for COVID-19,” Kyriakides said in a video-conference meeting with EU health ministers on the Ukraine crisis, according to speaking notes shared with the media.

She also stated that the bloc intended to obtain vaccines to immunize the refugees against these diseases.

In Ukraine, vaccination rates for measles, polio, and tuberculosis are projected to be below the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended threshold for preventing outbreaks, which are set at roughly 95% to ensure population-wide protection.

By 2020, 82 percent of Ukrainian children would have been measles-vaccinated, and 93 percent of the population would have been tuberculosis-vaccinated. According to the most recent polio vaccination statistics, 84 percent of youngsters have been immunized, but in other areas, the percentage has decreased to 60 percent.

To avoid overcrowding in neighboring countries, the EU has established a mechanism to facilitate the movement of sick Ukrainian refugees to hospitals across Europe.

This week, the first patients were moved from Poland to Italy.

According to Kyriakides, the EU plans to build up alongside the WHO triage hubs at the Ukrainian border to make an initial diagnosis and speed up medical transfers.

COVID-19 outbreaks are also a possibility, considering the poor vaccination rate among Ukrainians and the crowded settings in which they travel to the EU.

According to the WHO, only about a third of Ukrainians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to over 70% in the EU.

COVID-19 vaccination requirements for refugees are not currently planned, but campaigns to raise awareness about the need for and availability of vaccines are being considered, according to EU officials.

When asked whether refugees should be obliged to get a shot, France’s health minister Olivier Veran told a news conference at the end of the meeting, “A vaccine mandate would not be the greatest approach to begin welcoming Ukrainian people who have fled the violence.”

According to Kyriakides, EU countries have enough spare doses to vaccinate Ukrainian migrants against COVID-19 at the time.

  • Reuters