Mon, 23 Sep 2019

About 200 parents who oppose vaccination have gathered in the center of the Ukrainian capital to demand that their children be allowed to attend school without booster shots.

The rally was held outside the presidential office in Kyiv on August 22, with some protesters holding banners that read "Forced medical intervention is a crime."

Ukraine is experiencing its worst measles outbreak since gaining independence in 1991, having recorded more than 57,000 cases since January. Eighteen deaths have been attributed to the disease so far this year.

This prompted Health Minister Ulana Suprun and Education Minister Liliya Hrynevych to jointly threaten on August 14 not to let unvaccinated children attend school this year.

Authorities and health experts blame nescience among certain doctors, distrust of vaccines among a segment of the population, as well earlier shortages of vaccines, for the current outbreak.

Suprun has promoted a vaccine drive in areas most affected by the crisis and at a mid-month briefing she said the ministry has enough vaccines for children and adults.

Ukraine has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe, which could lead to outbreaks of diphtheria and tetanus as well, according to Suprun.

Measles is a preventable but highly contagious disease that can kill a child or leave it disabled for life.

Worldwide cases over the first six months of 2019 are at the highest level since 2006 -- substantially a result of uneven availability and misleading information regarding vaccinations, the World Health Organization said in a report published on August 13.

Measles cases tripled to 365,000 in the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2018.

But health experts worldwide have expressed concerns about the so-called 'anti-vax' movement spreading on social media and elsewhere that has raised fears among some parents that vaccinations can be harmful for children.

An October 2018 report published by the American Journal of Public health concluded that bots and Russian trolls have "amplified" the vaccine debate during the period 2014-2017.

"Whereas bots that spread malware and unsolicited content disseminated antivaccine messages, Russian trolls promoted discord," the report said. "Accounts masquerading as legitimate users create false equivalency, eroding public consensus on vaccination."

With reporting by UNIAN, Interfax, and AFP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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