Bulgaria’s caretaker Health Minister: Big mistakes in Covid-19 vaccination plan cost 10 000 lives

Bulgaria’s caretaker Health Minister Stoicho Katsarov told the National Assembly on July 28 that big mistakes in the previous government’s national plan for vaccination against Covid-19 had cost 10 000 lives.

The vaccination plan was approved by the previous government towards the end of 2020 and the first dose of a vaccine against Covid-19 was administered on December 27.

Katsarov told a special hearing that the first big mistake had been the previous government’s decision to prioritise the AstraZeneca vaccine at the expense of the other three vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency.

At the beginning of the year, Bulgaria had been left with a very small amount of vaccines, and only just more than 30 000 doses had been administered in January.

He told MPs that the second big mistake had been in the previous government’s choice of groups to prioritise to receive vaccines against Covid-19.

“Bulgaria did not give priority to people over 60 and people with serious illnesses, they were placed in the fourth category after social workers, employees in mink farms and others,” Katsarov said.

He said that this was a big mistake because 80 per cent of those in Bulgaria who had died from Covid-19 were people older than 60.

Every country except Bulgaria had given priority to the elderly, because vaccinating the elderly dramatically reduces mortality.

“Bulgaria is sacrificing the older generation,” he said.

“We immunised mainly young and active people for five months, and the most vulnerable groups were abandoned. This changed only at the end of May,” said Katsarov, who took office along with the rest of the caretaker cabinet in mid-May.

This mistake in prioritisation of groups had “according to experts” cost the lives of the 10 000 people who died during the second wave in March and April, he said.

Katsarov told the House that in effect, the vaccination plan had been “suspended” in mid-February when a decision was made to start offering jabs to all comers. At the point of this suspension, none of the four phases in the original plan had been implemented.

Katsarov said that another mistake was the poor logistics.

He said that one of the reasons for the widespread spread of the virus was that Covid-19 patients were admitted to hospitals along with all other kinds of patients.

Katsarov said that there were three main risks for high morbidity and mortality in the event of a fourth wave of Covid-19 in Bulgaria.

These risks came from the low rate of Covid-19 vaccinations in Bulgaria, poor crisis management last year and the extremely poor state of Bulgaria’s health system.

Regarding the health system, he said: “Unfortunately, this risk cannot be overcome in a month or two. Our health care system is severely unbalanced, poorly organised, poorly structured, poorly funded – for years. Covid-19 is a reason to hurry with reforms”.

Referring to the national plan for responding to Covid-19, approved by the caretaker government, he said that if this plan was implemented, it would eliminate the risk of poor crisis management.

Katsarov told the National Assembly that there was a risk of 22 000 AstraZeneca vaccines having to be destroyed because they would expire at the end of July. There was no current risk regarding the other brands of vaccines held in Bulgaria.

Katsarov reiterated his opposition to making vaccination against Covid-19 compulsory.

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

The Sofia Globe’s coverage of the Covid-19 situation in Bulgaria is supported by the Embassies of Switzerland and Finland.

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The Sofia Globe staff

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