They have all the vaccines they need, yet these EU nations are still miles behind their neighbors

According to the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC), some countries, including Ireland, Malta, Portugal and Denmark, have achieved close to universal vaccination, with coverage rates of around 90%. On the other side of the block, Romania and Bulgaria have fully vaccinated only 33% and 22% of their adults, respectively.

The problem is not due to the lack of vaccines. All EU countries have access to all EU-approved shots – Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson. Individual countries are also free to take other shots. HungaryFor example, has acquired Russian Sputnik vaccines for its population.

“They have vaccines. Anyone who wants to get vaccinated can,” Ivan Krustev, a Bulgarian political scientist and founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN.

Instead, Krustev said, Bulgaria struggles with deep-seated vaccine hesitation that is fueled by political instability, conspiracy theories and a lack of trust in the authorities.

“There’s a high level of mistrust, and that goes for both Bulgaria and Romania,” he said. “Even the medical community, doctors, nurses, many people hesitate to get vaccinated, so it’s not surprising that society as a whole is too,” he said.

Romania and Bulgaria have both been battling spikes in new coronavirus cases since early September. Romania has reported more than 45,000 new cases and more than 800 deaths in the week to Sunday, about the same level it saw in April at the peak of its second wave of the pandemic.

The ECDC warned on Thursday that states with low vaccination rates are at increased risk of hospitalization and deaths could fall this fall if they relax social distancing measures.

In its latest COVID-19 risk assessment, the ECDC said, “In such a scenario, due to high virus circulation, even fully vaccinated vulnerable populations are at risk of experiencing infection with serious consequences, urging countries that those who are struggling with inoculation.” Trying to understand why their population hesitates and then address those issues.

Bulgaria is holding its third parliamentary election in November this year. The last two votes, in April and again in July, ended in a deadlock, with no government being formed. As a result, the country is caught in a perpetual election campaign with little room for anything else.

“There has been a lot more campaigning than vaccine campaigning,” Krustyev said. “Neither the government in power nor the caretaker government made vaccination a priority.”

Krustyev stated that the issue of vaccines did not divide Bulgarian society on partisan lines, as most people were generally united in distrust of the political class. “There is a major level of polarization in America; here it is not so much political polarization, but the confusion and disgust with any political one that greatly hurts the success of [vaccination] campaign,” he told CNN.

Allegations of government corruption sparked widespread protests in Bulgaria last year. Police reacted with violence that shook the nation – and made people even more suspicious of the authorities.

The media also played a role, Krustyev said. “To make the debate more interesting, they will project anti-vaccine and anti-vaccine opinions as equally valuable, so that people get confused,” he said.

A health worker waits for patients at a COVID-19 vaccination center at the Military Medical Academy in Sofia.

The Romanian government has blamed its poor vaccination rollout on fake news and conspiracy theories being spread online.

There are also great disparities within the two countries. Roma communities in Romania and Bulgaria are among the least vaccinated. Dimitar Dimitrov, director of the Roma program at the Open Society Institute in Sofia, said the problem is due to strained relations between communities and the wider society.

“Many Roma neighborhoods in Bulgaria are under lockdown without proper [explanation] Even if the level of infection has been higher in other parts of the same municipalities. So this attitude of institutions towards the Roma people and the Roma neighborhood shows why Roma don’t trust institutions,” Dimitrov told CNN.

Dimitrov said many people, especially in rural areas, may also find it difficult to access vaccination clinics. Dimitrov said, “If you have to take a bus or train and travel 100 kilometers to get to the hospital and then wait in line, it takes time and money. The vaccination itself is free but to reach the vaccination point Money is spent,” said Dimitrov.

The Romanian government recently announced that it would invest additional resources to ensure people who cannot access clinics – for example by requesting a doctor to visit them at home.

east-west division

But Bulgaria and Romania are not the only ones facing the problem of hesitation. The European Union appears to be divided in two. One half have vaccinated and almost all are immunized. The other is struggling to convince large numbers of people amid deep distrust in vaccines.

The dividing line roughly sits along the Iron Curtain boundary that once divided Europe into East and West.

Of the bloc’s 27 member states, the top 15 performers in terms of vaccination rates are all part of the Western Bloc, while the bottom 10 are all former communist countries. Greece and Lithuania are the only two countries leading the trend, with Lithuania at 16th and Greece at 17th.

All former Western countries, with the exception of Greece, have fully vaccinated at least 70% of their adults. None of the eastern states have reached that limit yet.

Krustev said the way the pandemic unfolded in different countries could be a factor explaining the differences. “Countries that were more vulnerable to the first wave, in 2020, when the shock was greater, had more success with vaccination in general than countries hit by the second wave, such as Italy or Spain,” he said. has been found,” he said, adding that the Bulgarian government had never managed to convince the people that high vaccination rates were a top priority.

“Instead it became a matter of national pride that we never imposed a lockdown,” he said.

Anna Nisinska, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Economic Sciences at the University of Warsaw, has studied the causes of vaccine hesitation, saying that history also plays a major role in influencing people’s decisions.

Nikinska and her colleagues looked at data on trust in health care systems and medical officials from 100 countries and found that distrust was much higher in countries that had experienced Soviet-style communism in the past. People who had direct experience of being lied to by their governments struggled to trust the authorities even years after the revolution, she explained. The more people who lived under communism, the greater the distrust.

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“People exposed to Soviet communism are less trusting of other people, the government and health care systems, [the experience] creates mistrust in the public domain and [anything] formal,” she said.

Nikinska said this was one reason why strict vaccine requirements may not increase significantly in such countries.

“A vaccination decision is based on trust and making it mandatory would be counterproductive, you have to remember that many countries have a long tradition of state resistance, so people will find a way to avoid compulsory vaccination.”

The European Commission has acknowledged low vaccination rates as an issue in some of its member states.

“Unless the virus is defeated in all member states, the virus is not defeated,” a spokesman for the commission said in a statement to CNN. The commission said that countries that are struggling to increase vaccination levels should focus on campaigns especially targeting those who are hesitant and stress the importance of science.


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