Warsaw, Poland – Polish authorities are currently working on regulations to forbid unvaccinated third-country nationals from entering the country, Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski declared, amid fears of measles outbreak. According to some reports, the ministry is also considering whether the measure could apply to unvaccinated EU nationals.
Poland’s health inspectorate said that measles infections were on the rise, with nearly 130 cases registered between January and August this year (compared to less than 70 on the same period last year). According to authorities, most cases originated from unvaccinated foreigners, especially Ukrainians.
For over a year, Ukraine has been struggling with a measles outbreak, with reported cases reaching nearly 30.000 people last summer. Among the affected, 13 people died. A Measles Task Force was established in July 2017 to tackle the issue and urge Ukrainians to get vaccinated. Ukraine currently has one of the lowest measles immunization coverage in the world: while 95% of eligible children received the MMR vaccine (measles-mumps-rubella) in 2008, this figure dropped to 31% in 2016.
With 1.5 to 2 million Ukrainians living and working in Poland, local authorities fear that the epidemic might spread over the border. But authorities insist there is no reason to panic: “Poland as a country” is “absolutely safe”, with over 95% of the population vaccinated, underlined M. Szumowski, who has in the past strongly condemned the rise of anti-vaccine sentiment across the country in recent years. Last June, thousands of people marched in Warsaw to protest compulsory vaccination, and a citizens’ bill, backed by over 120.000 people, to do away with mandatory vaccines is currently under review by the Parliament’s health and social policy commissions.
Although Poland’s immunization coverage remains strong and in line with European standards, experts point to a growing mistrust in health authorities in Poland. The MMR vaccination rate, although at 95% today, declined by 3 points compared to ten years ago, and people refusing vaccines and subject to a formal administrative procedure skyrocketed, growing from 5.000 in 2007 to 23.000 in 2016, according to a report based on official data.