AK: Why are coronavirus vaccination rates low in Valga and Pärnu counties?
ETV's weekly news show "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" (AK) took a deeper look into why Pärnu and Valga counties have low rates of vaccination and why their citizens do not want to get vaccinated against coronavirus.
While the western island of Hiiumaa has Estonia's highest vaccination rate at 73 percent, Ida-Viru (51.51 percent), Valga (59.04 percent), Pärnu (61.75 percent) and Võru (59.45 percent) counties are trailing behind with the lowest coverage rates.
AK asked the Health Board (Terviseamet) for a greater breakdown of rates in each county's municipalities.
Ida-Viru County has Estonia's lowest vaccination rate. Around 53 percent are vaccinated in Narva-Jõesuu, 49 percent in Kohtla-Järve, 47 percent in Narva and 45 percent in Sillamäe.
In Otepää municipality in Valga County, 64 percent are vaccinated, in Tõrva municipality 60 percent and Valga municipality 48 percent.
In Võru County, Võru municipality is the least interested in vaccination - only 53 percent are vaccinated. In neighboring municipalities Setomaa and Rõuge, the vaccination percents are respectively 57 and 58.
In Tori municipality in Pärnu County, people are most skeptical about vaccines where 52 percent of the people are vaccinated. Under 60 percent are vaccinated in Pärnu, Häädemeeste and Saarde municipalities.
However, on the island of Kihnu, which is part of Pärnu County, the vaccination rate stands at 70 percent.
AK took a deeper look at the reasons for low vaccination rates in Pärnu and Valga counties and spoke to the people who live there.
The vaccination coverage in Estonia's southern country Valga is 61 percent. While some locals AK spoke to are worried about the low rate, there are a lot of people in the city who have not been vaccinated and are not planning to do so either.
"It's a huge political mess. More political than medical. I'm too up-to-date with the world's mass media and don't trust Estonia's mass media at all. Vaccination doesn't protect people from anything. Vaccinated people get infected, [and] infect others. I am not an anti-vaxxer, but in the case of this virus, it doesn't help," said Valga resident Volli, who is not planning to get vaccinated in the future.
"I'm not going along with this global experiment," he said.
Another city resident Nikolai, said: "Why should I? I feel normal. People are dying. A 67-year-old man - dead. He was a healthy man, had the second dose, was in the hospital for a week and died."
Olga said: "I don't understand. One article says it's safe, another article [says] completely the opposite."
Locals who talk to Valga's residents a lot confirm that most who decide not to get vaccinated have similar reasons.
Hairdresser Girli said: "The difference in this region is that not a lot is happening. We are living at our own pace, there is not a lot of entertainment, people don't feel that they need a vaccination certificate."
Hans said: "One-third of our population is Russians, I don't know how the information reaches Russians and gypsies."
Flower shop owner Karin told AK: "There actually isn't a solution in Valga and at the same time, our shop is full of Latvians. They come to buy flowers here and at the same time, we have to go there with all these certificates and masks and they all come here."
A family nurse operating in Valga, Anu Lepp, said that there are not enough family doctors in Valga to carry out vaccination. However, there are a lot of elderly people with medical issues and as a result, there is no workforce to call all the unvaccinated people.
"A lot of people have decided to get vaccinated after seeing their loved ones seriously ill. At the same time, cases of mild illnesses have been proof of the low necessity of vaccination for a lot of people," she said.
"They're already thinking where could I get ill. How would it be possible to get infected so I get the certificate? It seems to be an easier way out than getting vaccinated. I don't understand how somebody could think that way."
The situation is worrying for the vaccinated
Valga resident Hans told AK: "My position is clear. When I'm attacked with weapons, the state, law enforcement authorities are protecting me, but when I'm attacked with Covid bacteria, then we have democracy. Maybe this is what ensures my death, but who is responsible? The state should implement decisions."
The measures needed to increase vaccination coverage are seen very differently in Valga. According to many, the situation is hopeless and only severe restrictions work. At the same time, there are those who think more efforts should be made to counsel skeptics.
"The explanatory work and everything has to be done on a very personal level, which would come from a completely new channel and new people because even the faces who have told us back and forth about vaccination are no longer working," Girli thought.
Hans said: "I don't think all these stories and recommendations are very effective. If I were in power, I would establish compulsory vaccination and it would ensure the health of the Estonian people, ensure the economy, the functioning of the education system, the functioning of the health care system."
AK also spoke to residents in Pärnu County.
"Vaccination gives you the opportunity to go everywhere and health is important," Koit said.
Merle said: "At first I thought I wouldn't get vaccinated, but since I heard that if you are vaccinated, the recovery will be quicker, that's why I got vaccinated."
Krista told AK: "We have been vaccinated because we have a small child who has heart problems and we had to have surgery in Helsinki. And that is why we are vaccinated. We hope that the vaccines will still work."
Väino said: "I'm vaccinated. Many are against it. I can't imagine what those who think they don't need the vaccination are thinking. I don't know whether their parents didn't give them something in their childhood, maybe logical thinking. But clearly, there's something wrong with these people."
Family doctor Marina Simm works in Pärnu-Jaagupi, which is a municipality in North Pärnu County. But she also has patients in Tori municipality, which has the lowest vaccination rate in Pärnu County.
Simm wants to help her patients, but this is not possible if the patients do not agree. Currently, most vaccines being administered are third doses, with very few first doses.
"I've talked a lot about how the vaccine works, what it does to you, how it develops protection, cellular immunity aside, but not everyone listens to it. They do not want to hear it. They're the ones who don't want to and they are certain about it," she said.
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Editor: Roberta Vaino, Helen Wright