Facing criticism over slow rollout, Bulgaria starts Moderna vaccinations

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria began anti-COVID-19 inoculations on Thursday with its first batch of Moderna’s vaccine, amid concern over the slow pace of the rollout.

A medical staff member shows the Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Mothers Home hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria, January 14, 2021. REUTERS/Spasiyana Sergieva

About 100 medics from a maternity hospital in Sofia started getting vaccinations from the 2,400 doses of Moderna the country got a day earlier. Another shipment of 4,000 doses is expected later this month.

“I feel wonderful and much calmer now. I think I have put a filter between me and the disease,” Sofia Yordanova, senior midwife and head of a COVID ward at Mothers’ Home hospital in the capital, told reporters after getting a vaccination.

Bulgaria began vaccinating its front-line medics along with other European Union states on Dec. 27 with Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. But so far it has administered only 17,038, prompting criticism from opposition politicians for a slow start.

Health Minister Kostadin Angelov has called the pace of the vaccination “satisfactory” and said the country was ready to speed up the process once more vaccines are shipped to the country under an EU vaccine scheme.

“Bulgaria has ensured vaccines for every Bulgarian who wants to get a shot,” Angelov said. He urged the opposition to leave the vaccination process out of partisan speeches before a general election this spring.

Bulgaria plans to start vaccinating people in care homes and teachers next month, while continuing with vaccination of medical staff. It hopes to have a third of Bulgarians vaccinated by the middle of the year.

The country will get 1 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 500,000 of Moderna vaccine by the end of July, covering about 10% of its 7 million population.

It has also ordered 4.5 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. On Tuesday, Europe’s drugs regulator said it would review that vaccine by Jan. 29.

Angelov has said Sofia had ordered another 2.9 million shots from the additional 300 million shots Brussels has agreed with Pfizer and BioNTech.

Bulgaria managed to contain a surge in coronavirus infections in November by closing schools, shopping malls, restaurants and bars. The lockdowns will be effective until the end of January.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, editing by Larry King