What are the Anti-Vax Attitudes in the Balkans

Prohibited vaccine
17.11.2021 / 17:57

Conspiracy theories, security concerns, threat downplaying or simply rebellion - whatever the reasons for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, they seem to have found fertile ground in the Balkans to take root. If you also believe that vaccines are an attempt to change human DNA, that they are used for microchipping, that they cause sterility, diseases, that they are more dangerous than the virus, or that they are simply useless, then you probably belong to a large part of the population. Balkan countries, flatly refusing to be vaccinated.

ROMANIA, like Bulgaria, is among the countries with the lowest vaccination coverage in the EU. In large cities, just over 40 percent of the population is vaccinated (with the exception of Bucharest, where 64 percent are vaccinated), in smaller cities, just over 38 percent are immunized, and in rural areas - only 22.5 percent.

After the appearance of the first case of infection on February 26, 2020, along with the new coronavirus in the country, a parallel pandemic of fake news and conspiracy theories broke out. The rhetoric "mutates" from simple denial of the virus to anti-vaccine suggestions, with the "vaccine causing infertility."

Already in the first months, rumors were circulating that hospitals were offering money to record in someone's death certificate that the person had died of covid. The protective mask was described as a "muzzle" that the government wants to put on its citizens. All sorts of claims about the harm of masks, miraculous treatments of COVID-19, theories that 5G technologies are to blame for the spread of the virus, etc. have flooded social networks for months.

A study of attitudes toward COVID-19 found that older people and university graduates were more attracted to conspiracy theories. One explanation, according to anthropologist Radu Umbres, is that older people are distrustful because they remember the communist times, when official news was often fake. People with a high level of education often think that they are competent enough in areas beyond the acquired level.

According to a September study by the IRES institute on the refusal to vaccinate, 28 percent of Romanians do not believe in vaccines; 14 percent think they do not need a vaccine; 12 percent fear possible side effects; 11 percent have medical contraindications. Nine percent of respondents believe that the coronavirus does not exist, and six percent do not want to be vaccinated without a specific reason.

In addition to this picture, the nationalist Alliance for the Unity of Romanians entered the Romanian parliament in December 2020, organizing protests against anti-epidemic measures and the introduction of covid certificates almost every week.

In Romania, the clergy also played a significant role in shaping opinion, and some church members proved to be the most ardent anti-vaxers. For example, the abbot of a monastery in the district of Neamt warned his parishioners that after the vaccination, fish-like scales would appear on their bodies. The Romanian Orthodox Church criticized the abbot's statements.

In TURKEY, where more than 80 percent of adult citizens have been immunized with two doses of vaccine so far, a summer poll shows that the proportion of people who do not want to be vaccinated is 11 percent. Thirteen percent of Turks said they were unsure if they wanted to be vaccinated, and 76 percent said they were vaccinated or planned to be vaccinated, according to an IPSOS survey. Opponents of the vaccines are politically the most numerous among supporters of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Party of Nations - 36.5 percent, and the weakest soil anti-vaccination seeds are among the electorate of the Party of Nationalist Action - 9.5 percent, shows another a study conducted by the Metropol Agency.

Anti-vaccination rallies have taken place in recent weeks in Istanbul and Izmir, where participants protested without masks and social distance against vaccination and restrictions. They carried placards reading "Does the vaccine protect you or do you protect the vaccine?", "No solution is above the constitution" and "A virus that does not infect tourists".

Anti-vaxers in Karkakale County, central Turkey, have gone even further, announcing their intention to form their own party, the Party of Life Without Enforcement. Its initiator, local lawyer Haji Ali Yozhan, said the party had no political plans and would focus entirely on restrictive measures because of the pandemic. "We are against forced interventions, against plans to create robotic people through a system for tracking chips with chemical liquids called vaccines," Yozhan said.

Even more extreme in his reaction was a man from the town of Konya, who opened fire on public transport in October after a remark was made to put on a mask.

In general, the Turkish public does not oppose vaccination. But due to the fact that a large part of the country's population at a young age and children are not subject to immunization against covid, the pace of achieving mass immunity through vaccination seems slow, experts say.

The government of GREECE has been taking active measures since the summer to encourage mass vaccination, but also to put pressure on certain groups such as medical staff working in old people's homes, police officers, teachers and others to get vaccinated. Although about 70 percent of Greeks have been vaccinated with at least one dose, there is still a large group that strongly opposes vaccination.

According to a recent survey by the sociological agency Pulse, published by Sky TV, of the still unvaccinated just over half, about 56 percent, state categorically that they would not be vaccinated under any circumstances. The remaining 44 percent of the unvaccinated state various reasons that would convince them to be vaccinated, incl. aggravation of the epidemic situation, with more information from scientists or doctors if they are obliged to work or if they are encouraged by religious officials they trust. The data show that about 15 percent of Greeks can be identified as categorical "anti-vaccines", at least in terms of vaccination against COVID-19.

An interesting phenomenon is the significantly higher reluctance to vaccinate the citizens of Northern Greece. Various explanations are given for this, such as social structure and status, demographic structure, but also the influence of the monasticism of Mount Athos, which is especially strong there and is often a conduit of various extreme and even non-canonical views on Christianity.

Already in the summer, protests began in various parts of the country against measures in which anti-vaxers play the most vocal role, although it is difficult to say how many of the demonstrators are. Clashes broke out between protesters and police during some of the protests. Although rare, there are individual cases of violence, such as the incident with the famous pneumologist Prof. Theodoros Vasilakopoulos, who in late October was subjected to verbal and physical aggression by a restaurant owner for noticing that he did not control the green certificates of customers.

Although the topic has a lasting place in the media, anti-vaccines are generally a relatively small percentage of Greek society. Apart from the government's firm stance on vaccination, there is a fairly broad consensus among Greeks about the need for vaccination, and the country's mainstream media do not allow themselves to spread unscientific and unsubstantiated allegations about COVID-19 vaccines.

SLOVENIA, where at the moment about half of the population / 53.9 percent / has completed a vaccination course, in recent months has become the scene of one of the most numerous and violent protests against vaccination and restrictions due to COVID-19. They began after the government announced in mid-September the introduction of compulsory vaccination on October 1st for public sector employees. Dissatisfied with the restrictions and the introduction of green certificates, Slovenians gathered weekly for protests in central Ljubljana, encouraged by the anti-wax party Resni.ca / Istina /. Violence marked a protest ahead of an EU summit earlier last month, in which police used tear gas and water jets against protesters and injured dozens of police officers. Yangsha, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, warned that as a result of "irresponsible behavior", the country could be forced to return the lockdown.

According to a Eurobarometer survey released in early October, 24 per cent of Slovenians say they will never be vaccinated. / The leader in the reluctance to vaccinate in the EU is Bulgaria, where the percentage of those who refuse vaccination is 26 percent, according to the same study./

Vaccines are also skeptical in CROATIA, another EU member state where 22 percent of citizens are determined not to be immunized against COVID-19 at all, according to a Eurobarometer survey. 48.65 percent of the total population, or 58.20 percent of the adult population, are vaccinated in the country. Croatia, along with Slovenia and Bulgaria, is among the EU countries where the coronavirus situation is of most concern, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The decision to introduce a mandatory digital European coronavirus immunity certificate for workers and to enter all government offices and agencies, in force since Monday (November 15th), has sparked protests in Zagreb and other cities in recent days. "Unvaccinated people should not be fired" and "Freedom of choice", read the inscriptions on some of the posters of the protesters.

In the meantime, however, huge queues formed in front of the vaccination points in the country.

In SERBIA, interest in vaccination is also currently declining. The country launched its vaccination campaign with a strong vaccination rate at the beginning, providing vaccines from a large number of suppliers - Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sputnik and Sinopharm, but gradually in this Balkan country the hesitation and distrust in vaccination became necessary. Thus, Serbia, which at the beginning of the year was in second place in terms of vaccination rate per capita after Great Britain, was overtaken by most EU member states, according to Euronews. It even got to the point that in some vaccination centers in the country the number of vaccinated foreigners exceeded that of locals. Currently, 43.9 percent of Serbs or 3.03 million people are fully vaccinated in the country.

Anti-vaccination attitudes are also inherent in a large part of the citizens of the REPUBLIC OF NORTH MACEDONIA even before the pandemic of COVID-19. An epidemic of measles broke out in the country in early 2019 and claimed several lives, despite the fact that vaccination against this disease is included in the immunization calendar. As it turned out at the time, about ten percent of children, or nearly 40,000 children to be vaccinated, had not been immunized.

Distrust of vaccines continues to exist locally and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. These processes are also fueled by widespread misinformation. The media constantly report news, the public is flooded with information, which often includes unverified facts that misinform and under the pressure of the "hopeless" situation often become a truth that many people believe, according to MIA. As Prof. Nikola Panovski recently noted, about 30 percent of the Macedonian population did not believe at all at the beginning of the pandemic that the disease existed, and after thousands of deaths in the country, about 10 percent still do not believe it.

The vaccination campaign in the Republic of North Macedonia has started slowly due to the lack of available vaccines. Currently, 37.7 percent of citizens are fully vaccinated./BTA

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Photo: The Irish Catholic

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