Corona pandemic in Bulgaria: Europe’s bottom in vaccination

Status: 03.09.2021 5:41 p.m.

In no other EU country are so few people vaccinated against the coronavirus as in Bulgaria. Even among doctors, there is great skepticism. Why is that?

By Clemens Verenkotte, ARD Studio Vienna

“I am very skeptical about these vaccines. They were produced too quickly,” says a man in downtown Sofia. “No, I’m not afraid of the coronavirus. And I don’t want to be vaccinated. I don’t believe in it,” says another. And like these two men in Bulgaria’s capital, the overwhelming majority of the population apparently thinks: Because the vaccination rate in Bulgaria is extremely low – although all approved vaccines have been freely available for months.

A vaccination rate of 15.5 percent

Just over a million people in Bulgaria had been fully vaccinated by mid-August. This corresponds to 15.5 percent of the total population. There are vaccination offers almost everywhere: in parks, large shopping centers, in remote villages, at authorities, in companies and schools. But they are hardly accepted.

Why is that? Angel Kuntschew, the Bulgarian health minister’s chief overseer, gives one of the reasons: “These decisions, like vaccination, are more emotional than rational,” he says. “I don’t know of any other country in Europe that offers such a wide field for expressing open anti-vaccination feelings, including among fellow doctors.”

Social networks spread conspiracies

Conspiracy theories are not only widespread in social networks. They are also widely believed. According to a recent media survey, Bulgaria is the only country in the EU where, year after year, more and more people believe the content on social networks – in contrast to all other EU countries in which this trend is reversed.

“There was a direct connection between the tendency to prefer disinformation and conspiracy theories about Covid and a low level of trust in the government,” says media expert Raliza Kowacheva. “We had two medical panels that made two contradicting statements about Covid and containment measures.”

Many doctors against corona vaccinations

From the start, the authorities spread conflicting messages about the vaccines against the coronavirus. Many doctors also spoke out against the vaccination. The health authorities’ awareness campaign was also less than convincing. In addition: Bulgaria has been in a kind of permanent election campaign since the spring of this year. Voters have already cast their votes twice – and the formation of a government failed twice.

Now there will be the third parliamentary elections this year in November. Therefore, says the lawyer Maria Scharkowa, who specializes in health law, politicians were reluctant to make clear vaccination statements. “Actually, this epidemic is not handled professionally. Political decisions are more likely to be made,” she says. “Given the current election cascade we are currently in, politicians rarely want to leave their comfort zone and are afraid of different reactions in society.”

Hardly any vaccinated teachers

The vaccination rate among teachers is also comparatively low. Nikolaj Denkow, Minister of Education in the interim government, is therefore concerned about the new school year, which begins in mid-September. “Relatively few teachers in Bulgaria have had themselves vaccinated,” says the minister, “around 30 percent”. You have received contradicting messages, also from medical and scientific circles. That confused them.

It is very important that the various experts concentrate on convincing the teachers that the vaccines are good for their health, for the health of the children and ultimately crucial for classroom teaching in school, says Denkow. “The extensive experience of other countries, including Germany, can be used here.”

Introducing compulsory vaccination for school staff would not work in Bulgaria, says the education minister: “Every obligation that is placed on people must have a certain public support. In Bulgaria there is no public support for compulsory vaccination. Try vaccination making them mandatory will simply fail. “

Only 15.5 percent fully vaccinated – why Bulgaria is at the bottom of the EU when it comes to vaccination

Clemens Verenkotte, ARD Vienna, September 3, 2021 4:53 p.m.

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