Bulgaria campaigns to encourage Roma minority to get vaccinated against Covid-19

Facing a disturbingly low rate of vaccinations against Covid-19 among Bulgaria’s Roma minority, fuelled by misinformation about vaccines, the Health Ministry is to step up providing information about the jab to the community, it emerged from a briefing on June 22.

Hristo Nikolov, a health mediator at the Sofia regional health inspectorate, told reporters that only about 10 per cent of the Roma minority in Bulgaria had been vaccinated against Covid-19.

The main reason was misinformation, that “someone will chip them, monitor them in this way, sterilise them and so on,” Nikolov said.

The news conference was held after Deputy Health Minister Alexander Zlatanov held a working meeting with mediators who work with the Roma population. The meeting was also attended by Chief State Health Inspector Angel Kunchev and representatives of general practitioners.

The conclusions at the meeting were that myths about the vaccines have taken hold among the Roma minority in Bulgaria, while people also were afraid of side-effects.

Zlatanov said that now was a good time to embark on the campaign, given that morbidity in the country was low and all kinds of vaccines are available.

“And in order to protect all Bulgarians from a future wave, it is very important that people are immunised,” Zlatanov said.

“People who do not have health insurance will be able to be vaccinated free of charge at their GPs. We made this decision because the Roma population is worried about the fact that they may be asked for money for immunisation,” he said.

Different “channels” would be used to provide accurate information, including “through the people they respect and are authorities among them, the show business people they emulate, the clergy who preach”.

The second step was to emphasise that getting vaccinated was easy, and could be done either at temporary vaccination centres or at GPs.

Repeated meetings will be held over a period of 10 days, at which the effect of the actions will be considered.

“Vaccines should be given to the whole population fairly and equally, and no special conditions should be imposed on anyone. In addition to guaranteeing almost all vaccines approved by the EC, we guarantee that they are safe for people and free of charge for those who are not insured,” Zlatanov said.

There are no financial incentives for the administration of doses of vaccines, whether among people who are Roma or not, he said.

On the weekend of June 12 and 13, as The Sofia Globe reported at the time, a mobile vaccination point was deployed in a bus in Bulgaria’s city of Plovdiv’s Stolipinovo area, which has a population of about 40 000, mainly Roma people.

Plovdiv media reported at the time that eight people in Stolipinovo received the jab that Saturday and two on Sunday, prompting the bus to leave at noon because of the low interest. Reports said that the campaign was hampered by a Facebook group urging Roma people not to be vaccinated, lying that this would be fatal.

Most of the 10 people vaccinated in Stolipinovo that weekend wanted the Janssen vaccine because it is single-dose. Their motivation to get the jab was that they wanted to be able to travel abroad, the reports said.

Subsequent reports in Plovdiv media said that Roma community leaders had told the authorities that they were willing to encourage people to get vaccinated, but only if those who got the jab were paid to do so.

For the rest of The Sofia Globe’s continuing coverage of the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria, please click here.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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