Polish government’s COVID-19 advisers resign
The majority of members of Poland’s COVID-19 medical advisory body have resigned, saying their advice was ignored. reports Ed Holt.
Three-quarters of Poland’s medical advisory body on COVID-19 has resigned amid allegations that the government is ignoring its pandemic advice and condoning anti-vaccine sentiment.
In a letter delivered to the government on January 14, 2022, 13 of the 17 members of the COVID-19 Medical Council explained the reasons for their departure from the corps. Complaining about a lack of cooperation from the government, they warned of “…the growing tolerance of denial of COVID-19 and the importance of vaccination in the fight against the pandemic… reflected in government and official statements”. The letter also criticized “the gap between scientific and medical reasoning and practice” in the government’s approach to past and current waves of infection.
Poland has one of the highest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the world with more than 100,000 deaths from the disease. The vaccination rate of 56%, as of January 18, is below the EU average of 69%. In research on Polish attitudes towards vaccination against COVID-19, published last year by the Medical University of Warsaw, one in three people aged 18 to 65 said that they would ever receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Hesitation is particularly high in rural areas of the country where the ruling Law and Justice party enjoys strong support.
Measures are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, but doctors, including those on the advisory body – which was made up exclusively of doctors and disease experts – have repeatedly pointed out their poor application. Talk to The Lancetthe members of the Medical Council who resigned said that the government had increasingly ignored their advice for several months and that some politicians had started to speak out against them.
Dr Robert Flisiak, president of the Polish Association of Epidemiologists and Infectious Disease Specialists, said cooperation between the Medical Council and the government had been excellent until the middle of 2021, when vaccination in Poland started to slow down in a context of building anti-vaccine sentiment. “The government seemed to be moving more towards a wait-and-see approach and was reluctant to introduce unpopular measures,” he said. He attributed this to politicians who did not want to lose the support of voters sympathetic to or actively involved in anti-vaccine movements.
The government recently refused to sack a regional education official and Law and Justice party supporter after she said the COVID-19 vaccination was an “experiment”, calling her comments “unfortunate”.
Flisiak said MPs (some from the Law and Justice party) continued to obstruct pandemic measures legislation, coupled with the government’s rejection in November of Medical Council proposals, including legislation to check the COVID-19 status of employees in companies. and the introduction of a so-called COVID pass, “was pretty much the last straw.” “We resigned because we saw that we were no longer able to influence the decisions made,” he said.
After the resignations, the government issued a statement saying, “It is the role of the government to make decisions based on the various positions of experts – the Medical Council, economists, experts from other fields affected by the epidemic”.
Doctors unrelated to the Medical Council said the government’s reaction to the resignations was worrying. Krzysztof Filipiak, vice-rector of the Medical University of Warsaw, said the statement suggested “that [Poland’s] right-wing government has accepted huge mortality and does not want to change anything”.
The government is seeking to establish a new Medical Council. “He will have a wide range of experts, including medical experts, economists and sociologists. They will help and advise the Prime Minister. Currently, the Ministry of Health has a team of national consultants for various fields of medicine. They will continue to be the primary source of advice for the Minister of Health,” a spokesman for the Department of Health said. The Lancet.
However, former members of the Medical Council have questioned whether their replacements will be more successful in influencing policy. “The recommendations we made were very reasonable. I’m afraid that if the next medical board advises the same things, the outcome [being ignored by the government] will be the same. If they recommend what the government wants to hear, the government will have no problem, but nothing will change,” said Professor Anna Piekarska from the Department of Infectious Diseases and Hepatology at the Medical University of Lodz.
The resignations come as the Health Ministry warned Poland was entering a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections and predicted the country would soon face its highest infection rate yet, and that the health system could be strained.
We are worried about the severity of the wave. “At the moment we don’t have a COVID pass and 44% of the population is unvaccinated. The next wave will be dramatic,” Piekarska said.
Posted: January 29, 2022
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