The Czech Republic’s vaccination campaign appears to have stalled as the number of infections in the country rises again.
Although the Czech Republic’s vaccination rate is higher than in some other central and eastern European countries, it is lower than the EU average.
As of September 13, some 56.1% of the population had received at least one dose, compared to 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. by 60.3%.
This does mean, however, that only 1.6% of the population are waiting for their second injection, with more than two-fifths of the country not yet having 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 are waiting for the vaccination, although the authorities have opened centers without an appointment 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 only 0.13 dose per 100 people.
Reluctance to vaccination
Lubomir Kopecek, professor of political science 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 vaccine, it took several weeks for the vaccination campaign to roll out nationwide, and the registration portal was plagued by bugs and technical issues in the first few weeks. .
On top of that, authorities were faced with a large percentage of the population who were skeptical – or downright hostile – to the idea of vaccination, Kopecek said. A survey conducted by STEM, a local pollster, in early December found that only 40% of Czechs would be voluntarily vaccinated, among the lowest rates in Europe.
“The disinformation effect of some websites – sometimes they are apparently associated with Russia – is relatively strong in part of the population,” Kopecek added.
Jan Cemper, editor-in-chief of the anti-disinformation website Manipulátoři.cz, estimates that between 10 and 20% of the Czech population still believe in disinformation about COVID-19, a rate well below what had been estimated in previous reports. previous surveys in the year.
This is a particularly acute problem among the younger generation “who don’t admit that the Delta variant is a risk for them too,” Cemper said, referring to the more transmissible variant which is now spreading across Europe.
What impact will the next elections have?
But anti-vaccination 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 affected the vaccination rate in the past two months. And others are still recovering from COVID-19 after an increase in cases in the spring.
Unvaccinated people are, in some cases, those who live in small villages far from major cities, where the majority of vaccination sites are located, Kopecek noted.
Rastislav Madar, director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ostrava, said politics surrounding the upcoming general elections, scheduled for early October, is another factor.
“Vaccination has become a topic for some of the most radical politicians who discourage their supporters from taking it,” he said. So it is possible that this politically exacerbated rhetoric against vaccination will fade after the general election next month.
Some far-right parties in the Czech Republic have been at the forefront of anti-vaccination protests this year, as they have also sought to mix opposition to compulsory vaccination with opposition to some of the more restrictive rules government, such as restrictions on free movement.
However, analysts are not sure what impact the Czech Republic’s seemingly stalled vaccination campaign will have on the pandemic as a whole.
According to Madar, the epidemiologist, the combined post-vaccination and post-infection immunities “offer a high level of protection against severe forms of the disease.”
The number of infections is increasing
Between October 2020 and March this year, the Czech Republic had one of the highest population infection rates in the world. At one point during that time it was the worst in the world.
More than 1.6 million people, or nearly a fifth of the population, have officially recovered after contracting the virus, which has contributed to some level of natural immunity. Experts believe the actual number is considerably higher.
On the other hand, Madar said, the number of infections will likely increase in the coming months. They have already started to climb in early September. On September 8, authorities recorded 588 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest daily tally since May 25, according to the health ministry.
Although there are only 96 patients admitted to intensive care, according to a statement by Health Minister Adam Vojtech on September 9, he warned that the Czech Republic would soon be hit by a new wave of COVID-19.
“With a colder season ahead and with increased mobility of the population due to the schools recently opened on September 1, we can expect the incidence to increase further,” Madar said. “It will bring more severe forms to hospitals, especially those who have not gone through COVID in the past and have decided not to vaccinate. “
Vaccination of children over 12 began in early July. In recent weeks, the government has loosened some of the bureaucracy surrounding vaccination. Walk-in centers have opened so people don’t need to pre-register for a dose.
On August 30, Prime Minister Babis suggested that general practitioners, who resume the hospital vaccination campaign, be offered financial bonuses of 380 crowns (€ 15) for each person over 65 whom they convince to to get vaccinated. 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 could prompt 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 expected to challenge a close election in early October and lockdowns have subsided. proved unpopular in the Czech Republic.
What happens after the election, especially if the vaccination campaign continues to stagnate and the number of infections increases, is another matter.