Struggling hospitals, not enough staff, and a wave of hospitalisations is a common situation in many EU states.
But Bulgaria has the highest COVID-19 death rate in the bloc, with close to 27 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants.
In spite of this, the country has not introduced hard lockdown measures — the government has closed schools, restaurants and bars. Health authorities are expecting Bulgaria’s vaccination rollout to start on December 27.
“Around 5,000 people will be vaccinated first, Dr Angel Kunchev, Bulgaria’s Chief State Health inspector, said.
“These are mostly health professionals who are working in hospitals in large cities, especially in COVID units.
“These are the people who deal with Covid patients on a daily basis, and the virus is all around them.”
The vaccination programme will then focus on other members of the public but health officials are concerned about citizens’ lack of trust in the jabs.
“Logistics and vaccine access are not our main concern,” Dr Kunchev said. “Overcoming the fear and hesitation is. Judging by other voluntary vaccination programmes we are running, I can tell you the percentage of vaccinated people is not very high. It rarely exceeds 30 or 35 per cent. I’m just hoping that people will be reasonable here.”
Securing the vaccinations was the first hurdle for Bulgaria, the second was the country’s lack of infrastructure to keep the shots at -70 degrees Celsius.
To be able to safely store and ship the vaccine throughout the country, the Bulgarian government had to buy freezers. Upon their delivery at the beginning of December, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov was quick to announce the vaccination plan.
Health officials warn that the start of the programme will not bring about the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around 70 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated first, which means that measures will remain throughout 2021.