The Czech Republic’s vaccination campaign appears to be stagnant as the country’s infection numbers are on the rise again.
Although the vaccination rate in the Czech Republic is higher than in some other Central and Eastern European countries, it is below the EU average.
As of September 13, about 56.1% of the population had received at least one dose, compared with 52.9% on August 1. And 54.6% of the population is now fully vaccinated, up from 45.4% on August 1 and compared to the EU average. 60.3%.
However, this means that only 1.6% of the population is waiting for their second hit, and more than two-fifths of the country has yet to receive their first injection.
According to data collected on the website opendatalab.cz, an open source project of the Czech Technical University, only 26,007 people have registered on the government reservation portal and await vaccination, although the authorities have opened walk-in centers. where registration is not necessary. , in some parts of the country.
The vaccination rate peaked in mid-June, when about 0.9 doses per 100 people were administered daily. On September 8, it was reduced to just 0.13 doses per 100 people.
Hesitation before the vaccine
Lubomir Kopecek, a political science professor at Masaryk University, said one problem is that the government’s vaccination campaign started later than in some other European countries.
Although it started on December 27, when Prime Minister Andrej Babis was the first person to receive the jab, the vaccination campaign took several weeks to roll out across the country, and the registration portal was plagued in the first few weeks with errors and technical problems. .
On top of that, authorities faced a large percentage of the population who were skeptical, or openly hostile, to the idea of vaccination, Kopecek said. A survey by STEM, a local pollster, in early December found that only 40% of Czechs would be voluntarily vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Europe.
“The disinformation effect of some websites, sometimes apparently associated with Russia, is relatively strong on a part of the population,” Kopecek added.
Jan Cemper, editor-in-chief of the anti-disinformation website Manipulátoři.cz, estimates that 10-20% of the Czech population still believe in disinformation about COVID-19, a much lower rate than estimated in previous surveys in year.
It is a particularly acute problem among the young generation “who do not admit that the Delta variant is also a risk for them,” Cemper said, referring to the more transmissible variant that is now spreading across Europe.
What impact will the next elections have?
But anti-vaccine sentiment is not the only reason for the low vaccination rate in recent months. Sources who spoke to Euronews noted that many Czechs went on vacation in July and August, which has affected the vaccination rate in the last two months. And others are still recovering from COVID-19 after a spike in cases in the spring.
Unvaccinated people are, in some cases, those who live in small villages far from big cities, where most vaccination sites are located, Kopecek noted.
Rastislav Madar, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ostrava, said the politics surrounding the upcoming general elections, to be held in early October, is another factor.
“Vaccination has become an issue for some of the most radical politicians who discourage their supporters from taking it,” he said. It is possible, then, that this politically intensified narrative against vaccination will fade after next month’s general elections.
Some of the far-right parties in the Czech Republic have been at the forefront of anti-vaccination protests this year, while also seeking to combine opposition to mandatory vaccination with opposition to some of the government’s more restrictive rules. , such as limits to free movement.
However, analysts are unsure of the impact the Czech Republic’s seemingly stagnant vaccination campaign will have on the broader pandemic.
According to Madar, the epidemiologist, the combination of post-vaccination and post-infection immunities “provides a high level of protection against severe forms of the disease.”
Increase in the number of infections
Between October 2020 and March this year, the Czech Republic had one of the highest infection rates per population in the world. At some point in this period, it had the worst performance globally.
More than 1.6 million people, almost a fifth of the population, have officially recovered after contracting the virus, which has contributed to some level of natural immunity. Experts estimate that the actual number is considerably higher.
On the other hand, Madar said, the number of infections is likely to increase in the coming months. They have already started climbing in early September. On Sept. 8, officials recorded 588 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily count since May 25, according to the Health Ministry.
Although there are only 96 patients admitted to intensive care, according to a statement made by Health Minister Adam Vojtech on September 9, he warned that the Czech Republic will soon be hit by a new wave of COVID-19.
“With a colder season coming and with increased population mobility due to the schools recently opened on September 1, we can expect the incidence to increase even further,” Madar said. “It will bring the hospitals with more severe forms, especially those who did not go through COVID in the past and decided not to get vaccinated.”
Vaccination of children over 12 years of age began in early July. In recent weeks, the government has loosened some of the red tape surrounding vaccination. Walk-in centers have been opened so people don’t have to pre-register for a dose.
On August 30, Prime Minister Babis suggested that general practitioners, who are in charge of the vaccination campaign of hospitals, be offered financial bonuses of 380 crowns (€ 15) for each person over 65 years of age to the convince him to undergo the first vaccinations. Just under a fifth of people in this age group have yet to be vaccinated, according to open source data.
Perversely, such an increase in infections and hospitalizations in the coming weeks may work as a stimulus for the remaining unvaccinated population to receive a dose, Madar speculated.
What most analysts agree on is that the government is unlikely to tighten pandemic restrictions this month as the ruling ANO party is set to contest a close elections in early October and the lockdowns have proven to be unpopular in the Czech Republic.
What happens after the elections, especially if the vaccination campaign continues to stagnate and the number of infections increases, is another matter.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism