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World Bulgaria, EU's least vaccinated nation, faces deadly surge

10:41  08 september  2021
10:41  08 september  2021 Source:   msn.com

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A man drags an oxygen container outside the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) © Provided by Associated Press A man drags an oxygen container outside the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

VELIKO TARNOVO, Bulgaria (AP) — Standing outside the rundown public hospital in Bulgaria's northern town of Veliko Tarnovo, the vaccination unit's chief nurse voices a sad reality about her fellow citizens: “They don’t believe in vaccines.”

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Yordanka Minekova, the chief vaccination nurse holds a container of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru) © Provided by Associated Press Yordanka Minekova, the chief vaccination nurse holds a container of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

Bulgaria has one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the 27-nation European Union and is facing a new, rapid surge of infections due to the more infectious delta variant. Despite that, people in this Balkan nation are the most hesitant in the bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

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People walk in a corridor at the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru) © Provided by Associated Press People walk in a corridor at the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

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.

“We are open every day,” Yordanka Minekova, the chief vaccination nurse who has worked at the hospital for 35 years, told The Associated Press. “But people who want to be vaccinated are very few.”

Krasimira Nikolova, a 52-year-old restaurant worker, has chosen not to get vaccinated, saying she has doubts over the effectiveness of the available vaccines.

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“I don’t believe vaccines work,” she told the AP. “Hospitals are full of people who are vaccinated ... I already had the virus. I don’t believe it’s so dangerous. I have other health issues and if it was that dangerous, I would probably be dead already.”

But Sibila Marinova, manager of Veliko Tarnovo’s intensive care unit, says all 10 beds in its COVID-19 ICU ward are occupied and she feels angry that so many Bulgarians are refusing to get jabbed.

“100% of the ICU patients are unvaccinated,” she told the AP, adding that staff shortages are only piling on more pressure.

Bulgaria has access to all four of the vaccines approved by the EU — Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson&Johnson. 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. In the last week, an average of 41 people have died each day.

Children's drawings, the one on the left reading © Provided by Associated Press Children's drawings, the one on the left reading "Together We Will Defeat COVID-19" hang from a string at the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Only 20% of Bulgaria's population of 7 million have so far been fully vaccinated, making it the lowest vaccination uptake in the EU, where the average is 52%.(AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

Bulgaria's largely failed inoculation campaign now risks putting the country’s ailing health care system under serious strain.

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In response, the government imposed tighter restrictions Tuesday. Restaurants and cafes must close at 11 p.m. and their tables are limited to six people. Nightclubs have been shuttered and cinemas and theaters are limited to half capacity. Outdoors sports arenas are limited to 30% capacity.

People walk in a corridor at the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Only 20% of Bulgaria's population of 7 million have so far been fully vaccinated, making it the lowest vaccination uptake in the EU, where the average is 52%. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru) © Provided by Associated Press People walk in a corridor at the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Only 20% of Bulgaria's population of 7 million have so far been fully vaccinated, making it the lowest vaccination uptake in the EU, where the average is 52%. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

“The low vaccination rate forces us to impose these measures,” Health Minister Stoycho Katsarov said.

A child's drawing that reads © Provided by Associated Press A child's drawing that reads "Together We Will Defeat COVID-19" hangs from a string at the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Only 20% of Bulgaria's population of 7 million have so far been fully vaccinated, making it the lowest vaccination uptake in the EU, where the average is 52%.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Despite being in a vulnerable age group, 71-year-old retiree Zhelyazko Marinov doesn't want to get vaccinated.

“I think I’m healthy enough and have a good natural immunity,” he said.

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He gets most of his information about the vaccines from TV and Facebook, but said he could be persuaded to get vaccinated.

“If I were deprived of some rights and freedoms, I would get vaccinated,” he said. “For example, if I cannot travel without a vaccine certificate.”

Mariya Sharkova, a public health law specialist, believes that Bulgaria's worryingly low vaccine uptake is the result of residents' low trust in official institutions, along with fake news about the shots, political instability and a weak national vaccination campaign.

Men sit on the corridors of the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) © Provided by Associated Press Men sit on the corridors of the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

“In Bulgaria, we don’t have good health literacy,” she told the AP. “Many people choose to believe conspiracy theories and fake news.”

Only vaccines that are mandatory in Bulgaria — such as measles, mumps and rubella — have a high uptake. Sharkova said some blame has to lie with the government's vaccination program.

“They didn’t build any strategy on how to fight vaccine hesitancy,” she said. “We didn’t have any real information campaign for the vaccines. The ministry of health relies mainly on announcements on the ministry’s website, and I don’t think anyone actually goes on and reads it.”

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“The best policy for such hesitant countries and populations as ours are mandatory vaccines,” said Sharkova, who is dismayed that national TV channels often invite vaccine-skeptic doctors to be on their programs.

But making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory could risk further polarizing the issue, she said.

Men walk outside the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) © Provided by Associated Press Men walk outside the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Hriska Zhelyazkova, a 67-year-old military officer from the coastal city of Burgas, says he distrusts vaccines because "they were created so quickly.”

Yordanka Minekova, the chief vaccination nurse speaks during an interview with the Associated Press outside the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) © Provided by Associated Press Yordanka Minekova, the chief vaccination nurse speaks during an interview with the Associated Press outside the state hospital in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Despite one of the European Union's highest death rates from COVID-19, and as the country faces a rapid surge of infections due to the Delta variant, people in the Balkan nation are proving the most hesitant in the 27-country bloc to get vaccinated against COVID-19.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

“I think my body would do well if I contracted the virus,” he said. “I get information from the internet, (and) read the opinions of virologists.”

Still, he said he may get vaccinated if authorities slap tougher restrictions on unvaccinated people.

Back at the Veliko Tarnovo hospital, pro-vaccination drawings colored by children hang on the walls. “You are our superheroes,” one caption read.

People hold banners that read © Provided by Associated Press People hold banners that read "Freedom for Businesses" and "There is no COVID-19 - Let's go back to work" during a protest by restaurant workers in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 19,000 people in Bulgaria have died of COVID-19, a grim statistic that makes the country's death rate from the disease the EU's third-highest behind only the Czech Republic, and Hungary. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

But Minekova, the vaccination nurse, isn't optimistic about the future.

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“Somehow, I think it’s too late,” she said. “The right moment has been missed. I don’t see a way right now to solve this.”

___

Valentina Petrova contributed to this report from Burgas.

___

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at:

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

A waitress raises her arms while watching a protest by restaurant workers in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Only 20% of Bulgaria's population of 7 million have so far been fully vaccinated, making it the lowest vaccination uptake in the EU, where the average is 69%. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru) © Provided by Associated Press A waitress raises her arms while watching a protest by restaurant workers in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. Only 20% of Bulgaria's population of 7 million have so far been fully vaccinated, making it the lowest vaccination uptake in the EU, where the average is 69%. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

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Fact check: Indiana doctor spreads false information about COVID-19 vaccines .
While no vaccine offers bulletproof protection, the coronavirus vaccines have proved to be effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19. Breakthrough infections are possible, but they make up a small portion of total coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Public health data shows the bulk of COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated individuals. Fact check: 6 of the most persistent misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines Social media platforms have removed versions of the video for violating rules against coronavirus misinformation. But as of Aug.

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