President: COVID-19 'vaccination should be voluntary'

President Andrzej Duda during a televised town hall debate in Końskie (Świętokrzyskie province) said that any eventual vaccine for COVID-19 should be voluntary, as it is for the flu. In a later social media exchange, answering accusations that he is supporting the anti-vaccination movement, he added that he was not in favour of making other vaccinations such as those for polio and tuberculosis voluntary.

The town hall debate organised by public television TVP was attended by the President only. His opponent, the Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski standing for the main opposition party, the Civic Platform (PO) refused to attend the debate arguing that it was a “set-up” by a TV network which is hostile to him and his party. He organised a press conference, which he called a debate instead in Leszno in western Poland and invited the President to it. Predictably enough the President declined the invitation.

Both the Końskie and Leszno events had the trappings of a debate with an empty lectern for the candidate who did not attend. The fact that the two candidates could not agree on a format or the organiser of a debate meant that the voters were treated to two events held at virtually the same time, the one in Końskie televised by TVP and the other in Leszno broadcast by the commercial network TVN.

Voluntary vaccination

During the event in Końskie President Duda was asked about a vaccine for COVID-19. He reminded the public that he had discussed the issue at a recent meeting with US President Donald Trump at which they both agreed that Poland and US would work together on the development of the vaccine and that this would mean that Poland would be one of the first countries in which any new vaccine could be introduced.

He also told the audience that “when it comes to vaccination I am not in favour of compulsion. To tell you the truth I have never had the flu jab”, though he admitted that he had been vaccinated as a child and later as an adult for the standard fare of vaccinations. He believes that any vaccine against the coronavirus should be voluntary like the flu jab, and that it should be made available in the first instance to senior citizens free of charge.

Some took to social media to accuse the President of being opposed to all vaccinations. The President quickly stepped in saying that this was a misinterpretation of his words. “Stop manipulating. I was simply saying that any eventual vaccine against the coronavirus should not be compulsory; as is the case with flu. But when it comes to other diseases such as polio and tuberculosis it's a totally different matter. “

Trzaskowski in Leszno

There seemed to be more heat in the proceedings in Leszno, but that was not down to the debate but the temperature in the studio. One of the journalists putting a question to the candidate felt faint after putting her question and was saved by a glass of water taken to her by the candidate from the empty lectern that had been placed for the President. She recovered quickly and even managed to put a second question to the candidate.

Mr Trzaskowski told the assembled journalists and viewers watching that he would make improving Polish relations inside the EU his top priority. He also said that climate change would be a priority for him and that renewable sources of energy must replace coal.

The PO’s candidate said that he was prepared to reach out to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) and several times praised the deceased PiS backed President Lech Kaczyński, once again saying that he was willing to name a Warsaw street after the statesman. Warsaw city council, controlled by the PO, have for years blocked any such move and recently took actions which resulted in a major street which had been named in Lech Kaczyński having its name changed back to what it had been in communist times, a street which celebrates the so-called “People’s Army”, a small band of Soviet backed partisans who were marginal in the Polish underground movement during the war.