William Nattrass William Nattrass

Central Europe’s vaccine scepticism problem

A protest in Prague (Photo: Getty)

Countries around the world are in a race against time to vaccinate their populations against Covid-19. But there is one particular region which appears to have a growing problem with vaccine scepticism: Central and Eastern Europe.

As a British expat living in the Czech Republic, I have noticed the lack of eagerness with which many Czechs discuss the vaccine rollout. This may in part be due to the country’s floundering and much-criticised vaccination programme. But it is noticeable that anti-vaccine sentiment is more common – and gets much more attention – here than in the UK. Ex-President Václav Klaus recently told a large anti-lockdown rally in Prague that vaccines are not the solution to the virus.

It’s worth remembering that Central and Eastern Europe is a highly diverse place: Poland is one of Europe’s most religious countries, while neighbouring Czech Republic is often described as the most atheist place in the world. Yet a high level of scepticism about Covid vaccination seems to be shared throughout the region.

In October 2020, only a third of Czechs said they would accept a Covid-19 vaccine. And in an international survey of attitudes towards Covid vaccination, Polish respondents exhibited the highest proportion of negative responses. Another survey in December found that less than half of Poles want to get vaccinated, with 44 per cent planning to refuse the jab. The picture is similar elsewhere: in Bulgaria only 30 per cent of people would definitely get the jab, while a Eurobarometer poll found that only 49 per cent of Hungarians are willing to be vaccinated.

What explains this trend? It doesn’t appear to be down to low vaccine uptake in general. Central Europe has extremely high coverage levels for regular, mandatory vaccines.

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