Bulgaria is the EU's least-vaccinated country and faces a deadly epidemic

The chief nurse of the vaccination unit, standing outside the abandoned public hospital in the northern Bulgarian town Veliko Tarnovo, reveals a sad truth about her fellow citizens: "They don’t believe in vaccines."

Bulgaria is the EU's least-vaccinated country and faces a deadly epidemic

Bulgaria has one the highest rates of coronavirus deaths in the 27-nation European Union. It is also facing an epidemic of new infections from the more infectious delta variant. __S.3__

Only 20% of adults in Bulgaria, which has a population of 7 million, have so far been fully vaccinated. That puts it last in the EU, which has an average of 69 % fully vaccinated.

Yordanka Minekova (the chief vaccination nurse at the hospital) said that "we are open every day." She has been with the hospital for 35+ years. "But there are very few people who want to get vaccinated."

Krasimira, a 52 year-old restaurant worker, decided not to get vaccinated. She said she was skeptical about the effectiveness of vaccines, despite the fact that they have been proven to be very effective in preventing serious illnesses and deaths.

She told the AP that vaccines don't work. "I had the virus already. I don't believe it's so dangerous."

Sibila Marinova is the manager of Veliko Tarnovo’s intensive care unit. She claims that the entire COVID-19 ICU ward at her hospital proves this to be false.

She stated that "100%" of ICU patients were not vaccinated.

She also said that she was angry at the refusal of many Bulgarians to be jabbed.

All four vaccines approved by EU have been made available to Bulgaria -- Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer. But since the start of the pandemic, more than 19,000 people in Bulgaria have died of COVID-19, the EU's third-highest death rate, behind only the Czech Republic and Hungary. On average, 41 people per day have died in the past week.

The government responded by imposing tighter restrictions on Tuesday. Cafes and restaurants must close by 11 p.m., and tables can only hold six people. Nightclubs have been closed and theaters and cinemas have been reduced to half their capacity. The outdoor sports arenas have a limit of 30% capacity.

Stoycho Katsarov, Health Minister, stated that "the low vaccination rate forces" him to impose the measures.

Zhelyazko Marinnov, a 71-year old retiree, doesn't want vaccines despite being in a vulnerable group.

He said that he believes he is healthy enough and has a good natural immune system. He also suggested that he could be convinced to get vaccinated if it was impossible for him to travel without one.

Mariya Sharkova is a public health lawyer specialist who believes that Bulgaria's alarmingly low vaccination uptake is due to residents' low trust and distrust in government institutions. She also believes there are fake news about shots, political instability, and a weak national campaign to immunize people.

She told the AP that in Bulgaria there isn't much health literacy. "Many people believe in conspiracy theories and fake news."

Only mandatory vaccines in Bulgaria, such as rubella, measles and mumps, have high uptake. Sharkova stated that the government's vaccination program is partly to blame.

She said that they didn't have a strategy to combat vaccine hesitancy. "We didn’t have any information campaign about vaccines. The announcements on the ministry’s website are all that is used by the ministry of health. I don't believe anyone actually reads them.

Sharkova stated that mandatory vaccines are the best policy for countries and peoples as hesitant as ours. She is also dismayed by the fact that vaccine-skeptic doctors are often invited to participate in national television programs.

She said that making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory could further polarize the issue.

Hriska Zhelyazkova is a 67 year-old military officer from Burgas. She claims she doesn't trust vaccines because they were "created so quickly." This is apparently despite years of research that laid the foundation for vaccine shots. The vaccine shots have now been administered to hundreds of millions of people, with very rare side effects.

She said that she could still get vaccinated, if the authorities put more restrictions on those who are not vaccinated.

The walls of the Veliko Tarnovo Hospital are covered with pro-vaccination illustrations colored by children. One caption said, "You are our heroes."

Minekova, the nurse who administers vaccinations, isn’t optimistic about the future.

She said, "Somehow, it seems too late." "The right time has passed. "I don't see any way to resolve this right now."

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