Bulgarian care home patients get first shots in slow vaccine rollout

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria started vaccinating care home patients in the capital Sofia against the new coronavirus on Wednesday as the Balkan country seeks to accelerate immunisations and catch up to European Union peers.

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The country of 7 million people has inoculated about 29,000 medical workers so far - putting it at the bottom in terms of vaccinated people per capita in the 27-member bloc.

“This is a chance we are given and we have to grab it. There is no other way to fight this virus,” said Ulyana Dumova, one of the first 15 patients in the Nadezhda care home to get the vaccine.

The centre-right government has faced criticism it has ordered too few quantities of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines - the first two that have been approved for use in the EU.

An updated delivery schedule showed it will be able to inoculate about 2.2 million people with Pfizer and Moderna doses by the end of the year.

Sofia has bet heavily on AstraZeneca’s vaccine, of which it has ordered 4.5 million doses, but reports that the company will fail to meet its obligations to the EU in the first quarter may further delay its vaccination plan.

“The first quarter is quite timid, as you can see there are delays in deliveries, there are all sorts of hurdles that are beyond our control,” Ventsislav Mutafchiyski, head of the national COVID task-force told private BTV channel.

“But we are optimistic that deliveries will be regular in the second and third quarter,” he said.

Bulgaria has ordered more than 12 million vaccine shots from six producers under the EU scheme and Health Minister Kostadin Angelov has repeatedly said that every Bulgarian would be able to be inoculated. He said Bulgaria expects to receive some 260,000 shots from AstraZeneca in February alone.

Many are not so positive. Popular Bulgarian rap singer, Itso the Gamble is among those to voice concern at the slow pace.

“I am very worried... that by the time my turn for a jab comes ... there’ll be no me,” he told a popular TV talk show earlier this week.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Stoyan Nenov; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise