Ukraine’s elderly reunited with loved ones after vaccine
After a year in lockdown, elderly people in Ukraine are looking forward to seeing their families once more, thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine.
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Today is a big day for Olha Antoniuk. After more than a year of isolation and an 84th birthday spent without her loved ones, she is preparing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I have two daughters, five grandchildren and many great-grandchildren,” says Olha, who lives at a nursing home for war and labour veterans in Korosten, northern Ukraine. “I keep in touch with most of them, but, due to the lockdown, I could communicate only by phone. I can't wait to hug my grandchildren without fear of being exposed to the virus.”
Together with 44 other residents and 33 employees, Olha will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was delivered free of charge to Ukraine as part of the global COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative. Through COVAX - which aims to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low- and middle-income countries – UNICEF is procuring vaccine doses in Ukraine.
In total, thanks to this unprecedented initiative, at least 117,000 patients and staff at institutions for the elderly in Ukraine will be vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Once they develop antibodies, recipients of the vaccine will finally be able to return to their usual way of life and see their families and friends.
Reunited at last
Petro Kyrylenko, 83, lives in a nursing home in Ukraine’s Zyktomyr region, along with his 82-year-old wife Rimma. The COVID-19 vaccine will change their lives.
“I’m sure the vaccine is a chance to return to normal life," says Rimma.
Before the pandemic, Petro was often visited by his 87-year-old sister, who travelled several dozen kilometres by bus and brought homemade food. He can’t wait to see her again.
“That’s exactly why I decided to get vaccinated,” says Petro, happily. “I just really want to be able to see my sister again.”
Brighter days ahead
The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted people who live with disabilities.
Anatolii Nesterenko is just 52, but lives in a nursing home after doctors were forced to amputate both his legs as a result of severe frostbite.
Anatolii did not hesitate to get vaccinated. He believes it is a responsibility.
“I do not want this infection to continue to poison everybody’s life,” he says.
Anatolii’s neighbour, 47-year-old Bohdan Volynchuk, also uses a wheelchair after suffering a stroke in 2018. He dreams of learning how to walk again and knows the vaccine will protect him.
“For this, I have to be vaccinated, among other things,” he says. “Lockdown has been very restrictive. Having immunity, I will be able to see people without fear. And, if I can restore the mobility of the body, I hope to move back to my home. Everything is fine here, but I want to have a life.”
Vaccinated and protected
A mobile vaccination team travels around the Zhytomyr region to reach vulnerable groups like these. Three of the physicians received training as part of the COVAX initiative.
“We were specifically taught to work with the RNA vaccine,” explains Svitlana Pastukh, a family doctor and one of the members of the mobile team. “This is good because vaccines differ, at least in terms of storage."
As well as their medical function, the team also has a social mission – to reassure people by explaining the importance of vaccines and debunking myths.
"We explain that the vaccine is of a high quality and fully certified,” says Svitlana. “We tell them that all doctors from the mobile group have received prior training. It is important for older people to know the details and to feel that we care for their health.”
Hope for the future
UNICEF works with communities across Ukraine to increase demand for vaccination among priority population groups, especially older adults. It also works with the government to ensure that people over 60 receive up-to-date information about vaccination against COVID-19, including the types of vaccine that are available and how to receive them.
Thanks to COVAX, Ukraine is expected to receive enough vaccines to protect up to 20 per cent of the population from COVID-19 by the end of 2021.
“UNICEF is grateful to partners and donors who are helping to make COVID-19 vaccination more accessible in Ukraine,” says Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine. “Thanks to the support of colleagues from World Health Organization, the governments of the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States Agency for International Development, the World Bank and other donors, more and more people in Ukraine receive protection from such a dangerous infection as COVID-19.”
The vaccine means that millions like Olha will be reunited with their loved ones once more and able to resume their lives.
"It felt like a mosquito bite,” she exclaims, after the vaccine. “Nothing terrible! Even the injection area does not hurt. Now, I will be able to walk freely around the city. I will not feel lonely.”