Romania is grappling with its worst wave of Covid-19 to date. Widespread suspicion about vaccines doesn’t help

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“I never thought, when I started this job, that I would experience something like this,” Ionita said. “I never thought that such a catastrophe could happen, that we would end up sending entire families to their graves.”

Several floors above, all but one of the beds in the hospital’s now expanded intensive care units were full. A nurse was changing the sheets on the only vacant bed – empty, for the person occupying it was now lying in the morgue.

Romania has one of the lowest vaccination rates.
A little bit less 36% of the population was vaccinated, although the country’s vaccination campaign got off to a good start last December.

Medical staff and authorities attribute the low vaccination rate to a variety of factors, including mistrust of authorities, deeply held religious beliefs and a flood of disinformation surging through social media.

When Dr Alexandra Munteanu, 32, arrived to work at one of Bucharest’s vaccination centers after a night shift in the hospital, she found the turnout to be low. She is puzzled by the fact that the severity of the disease just does not seem to have penetrated. “There are a lot of doctors, including myself, who work with Covid patients, and we are trying to tell people that this disease really exists,” she said.

One of the most virulent and prominent anti-vaccines in the country is Diana Sosoaca, member of the Romanian Senate. In one of her many public stunts, she tried to prevent people from entering a vaccination center in her constituency in the northeast of the country.

“If you love your kids, stop the vaccinations,” she says in a video clip on her Facebook page. “Don’t kill them! ”

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The vaccines offered in Romania have been extensively tested for use in children and found to be safe and effective, but that hasn’t stopped him and others from spreading wild rumors on social media and television. local.

Civil servants and medical staff are enraged that public figures have done so much to undermine their efforts.

“Look at the reality,” said Colonel Dr Valeriu Gheorghita, a military doctor who is leading the national vaccination campaign. “We have our intensive care units full of patients. We have a lot of new cases. We have, unfortunately, hundreds of deaths every day. So that’s the reality. And over 90% of the patients who died were not. vaccinated. ”

A banner in Bucharest shows doctors working on Covid-19 patients with this message:

In Bucharest, a huge banner was erected, covering half of the facade of a building on a large boulevard. “They are suffocating. They are begging us. They are sorry,” are the words printed in massive black letters above black and white photographs of doctors dealing with Covid patients in an intensive care unit.

Downstairs, few passersby take a look at the poster, let alone bother to share their thoughts with CNN. Soon, however, this banner will be hoisted in other major cities across the country.

“There is manipulation,” said a woman named Claudia, adding: “Some people don’t believe in vaccines.”

Mayor: “It’s not a safe vaccine”

Nowhere is this mistrust more apparent than in the countryside, where Vaccination rate against Covid-19 drop to about half of those urban areas.
Suceava County, an hour’s flight northeast of Bucharest, has the lowest overall vaccination rate in the countryside.

Here, the director of the main hospital, Dr Alexandru Calancea, 40, talks about the peculiarity of this region, where he was born and raised.

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“This county is very religious. It is an area that has a strong religious tradition and a lot of religious people. […] Very little [priests] are pro-vaccine, and I certainly know some that are anti-vax. Most choose to say nothing, for or against. We have proof, from the hospital, of patients who come from the same religious communities, where their priest, or their parish priest, advised them against getting vaccinated, just like that. ”

Just outside Suceava, in the village of Bosanci, such a pastor is also the mayor of the village. Neculai Miron has been one of the nation’s most vocal anti-vax public figures, and today is no different.

“We are not against vaccination, but we want to verify it, to satisfy our concerns, because there have been many side effects,” he told CNN. “We don’t think the components of the vaccine are very safe. It is not a safe vaccine.”

Neculai Miron, mayor of Bosanci village, Suceava county, voices his views on the vaccine - he thinks it's not safe.

Medical data doesn’t influence him, and neither does the local GP, whom he took to the CNN team.

Dr Daniela Afadaroaie administers the vaccine to about 10 people every other day, using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The latest official documents show that just under 11% of the village has been vaccinated from the beginning of November 2021.

As she spoke about the situation in the village, the mayor, Miron, circled around the doctor’s office, looking at the papers on his desk to see who had been vaccinated.

“When are you going to get vaccinated, Mr. Mayor?” asked Afadaroaie, laughing.

“I don’t need to be vaccinated,” he retorted. “I am in perfect health.” The doctor’s explanation that the vaccine helps you stay in this state has fallen on deaf ears.

Pastor: “I believe what I see rather than what I hear”

In rural villages like this, poverty and lack of education, along with the personal influence of local leaders and traditional religious beliefs, can be a deadly combination.

But local Pentecostal pastor Dragos Croitoru insisted he was not aware of any Covid-19 deaths in the parish. “Here in the church, we don’t have any cases of people sick with the coronavirus. We have a zero percent death rate, I don’t know anyone who has died from the coronavirus here in our ward. And I believe what I see, rather than what I hear, “he said.

Despite CNN news of the bodies of Covid-19 victims filling the mortuary at Bucharest University Hospital, Croitoru was not convinced. “Bucharest is bigger than Bosanci, as far as I know,” he laughed. “We had no deaths. Maybe we had a few people who got sick in the village, yes, as far as I know, yes. But the death rate in our church was zero.”

The death rate is certainly high elsewhere in this predominantly rural county. Suceava ranked third in death rates from Covid-19 for the whole country in early November, according to figures from the Public Health Unit, which monitors deaths.

Freshly laid graves in the largest cemetery in Suceava in northeast Romania, which has the third highest Covid-19 death rate in the country.

A corner of the main cemetery in Suceava, the county seat about 10 minutes from Bosanci, is full of freshly dug graves. In the cemetery chapel, a service is in progress. On the hill behind the chapel, mourners gather for a funeral. Nearby, another tomb is in preparation.

The wooden crosses on each new grave do not indicate the cause of death, so it is not known how many died from the virus. However, a man working on one of the graves said the number of people buried recently was much higher than usual.

“Eternal regrets,” reads a ribbon draped over one of the graves.

Back in the mortuary of the Bucharest University Hospital, a nurse drove a nail into a wooden coffin. A colleague sprayed the coffin with disinfectant.

For those who die of Covid, there will be no open coffin burials.

“The vaccine makes the difference between life and death,” said Ionita, the nurse. “People should understand this. Maybe in their last hour, they should understand this.”

For those wrapped in the black body bags before him, it is already too late.


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