KIEV: Some 200 anti-vaccine protesters rallied in Kiev Thursday (Aug 22) after authorities threatened to ban unvaccinated children from schools in Ukraine, which is hit by a deadly measles outbreak.
Ukraine has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Europe and has recorded more than 57,000 measles cases since the start of the year, including 18 deaths: An unprecedented number since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
In mid-August, the government threatened to ban unvaccinated children from access to schools.
The Kiev protesters, many of them young parents with children and some from the provinces, insisted they had the right to refuse vaccinations.
"I am for a free choice and against discrimination," said Alla Fedorchuk, a 25-year-old who travelled to the capital from the western city of Lutsk.
Her three-year-old son has not been vaccinated. Fedorchuk said a relative suffered side effects after being vaccinated.
Some protesters carried banners that read "Forced medical intervention is a crime."
Authorities blame strong opposition to vaccinations among a part of the population and vaccine shortages for the current crisis.
Urging parents to vaccinate their children, the health ministry organised mass vaccinations in schools in areas most affected by the crisis.
In late July, the government launched a vaccination campaign against diphtheria and tetanus.
"Vaccination coverage among children is about 70 per cent, among adults it is even lower. Experts predict an outbreak" of these dangerous infections, said acting health minister Ulyana Suprun.
There is growing concern over global public resistance to vaccinations.
Measles cases nearly tripled globally during the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said this month.
Measles, which is highly contagious, can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine, but the WHO has in recent months sounded the alarm over vaccination rates.
The airborne infection causing fever, coughing and rashes can be deadly in rare cases and had been officially eliminated in many countries with advanced healthcare systems.