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Global Ideas Reporter | Reporter's Log

Vaccination for everyone, the polar way

“Have they cleared the landing strip?”, I asked my seat neighbour when our plane was about to land in the North Russian city of Archangelsk last wednesday. My seat was not on the window, all I could see was right in front of the small window: a lot of snowflakes twirling in the air. It is winter already. When we took off in Berlin in the morning, the autumn sun rose. “Yes, they did”, the colleague next to me answers. “There is less snow underneath our plane then aside us.” The plane slows down.

The next morning, all the snow is thawed. A local man says: “It is quite mild for this time. Normally it is snowing already in middle of October.” Is it just freak weather or already climate change? I prefer not to ask that question.

It emerges that people in Archangelsk do not really believe in climate change: It’s not so bad, they say, all natural.  That’s the undertone at a discussion panel on the German-Russian Media forum that is running at the moment in Archangelsk.

I am almost relieved, as a researcher from Northern Public Medical University says: “The existence of climate change is beyond all question”. But a second later I wince as she continues: “We are not interested in what is causing climate change. If humans are responsible … who knows.” It would be more important to think of the consequences and to protect the health of the people. The health professional Zhanna Varakina has contributed to a research project of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The project title is truly condensed, in terms of a scientific paper: “Impact of climate change on human health and assesment of possibilites for adaption in the North of Russia.”

Bridge in Archangelsk, Russia

 

Varakina finally found out: Today there are sixty times more cases of tick-borne encephalitis as there were 15 years ago. What this means in absolute numbers, she can’t tell instantly. Tick-borne encephalitis, short TBE, is caused by virus-infection. These viruses get into the human body when one is bitten by a virus-infected tick. “20 years ago those infected tics could not be found here. It was simply too could, so they couldn’t survive here as tics are very sensitive to temperature”, the researcher says. But nowadays it is here, in Archangelsk, northern of 64th latitude, warm enough for them. A look at the online availiable climate-tables reveals for Archangelsk: In winter the montly average temperature ranges from zero to minus 13 degree Celsius – in summer it is 16 degrees on average and maximum temperature is 21,8 degrees. To me, this still seems quite brisky, but if the ticks feel fine with this…

So I ask the researcher: How do you protect the 350.000 inhabitants of Archangelsk – with a TBE vaccination, as is customary in Germany? “That would be too expensive” she answers. The TBE vaccination is said not to be included in the national vaccination schedule, which means everybody would have to pay for it on his own. But actually, the vaccination is not necessary, she adds: “In spring, two weeks before the snow starts thawing, we distribute chemicals against those animals.”

Franziska Badenschier

Date

October 30, 2012

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