Morgues fill up in Romania and Bulgaria amid low Covid vaccine uptake

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Romania and Bulgaria are recording the EU’s highest daily death rates from Covid-19, after superstition, misinformation and entrenched mistrust in governments and institutions combined to leave them the least vaccinated countries in the bloc.

While new infections have recently started to edge down, Bulgaria this week reported its highest ever total of daily fatalities. Its seven-day rolling average of deaths per million inhabitants reached 22.8, compared with an EU average of 3.1.

In Romania the average daily death rate hit 23.7 per million last week and has since dipped to 21, according to figures from OurWorldInData – still more than 30 times higher than in Portugal, France or Spain.

Despite ample vaccine supplies, the two countries have fully vaccinated the lowest proportion of their populations in the EU: 34.5% of Romania’s inhabitants have received two jabs, and 23.04% of Bulgaria’s. That compares with an average of 65.2% across the EU, with countries such as France, Finland, Italy, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark and Spain all nearing or exceeding 70% and Malta and Portugal surpassing 80%.

Low vaccine take-up has exposed a deep east-west faultline defined by poverty, underdevelopment and low levels of health education – and compounded, in many ex-communist eastern EU states, by very low confidence in government.

Surveys have consistently shown that populations in central and eastern Europe, much of which emerged from communist rule barely 30 years ago, place significantly less trust in national governments and institutions than in the west.

In both countries, the overwhelming majority of deaths are among unvaccinated people. In Bulgaria, Ivan Poromanski, the head of Pirogov hospital in Sofia, told local television that nine out of 10 patients in its intensive care unit died, and the number of deaths among the vaccinated was “minuscule”.

Romanian authorities introduced tighter preventive measures a fortnight ago, including a 10pm curfew and making vaccination certificates obligatory for activities such as going to the gym, the cinema or a shopping centre.

More than 90% of fatalities are unvaccinated, according to the health ministry, and roughly 85% are over the age of 60, with mistrust, misinformation and isolation keeping elderly people, in particular, away from vaccines.

Photo – A Romanian health worker, who wears full protection suite, walks on the main alley of the Institute of Infectious Diseases ‘Matei Bals’ in Bucharest, Romania. EPA-EFE/ROBERT GHEMENT

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