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Bulgaria offers pensioners cash for jabs to avoid becoming ‘Covid ghetto’

Bulgaria offers pensioners cash for jabs to avoid becoming ‘Covid ghetto’
Retirees in the country will receive 75 levs (£32) for getting jabbed in the EU’s vaccine laggard

Desperate to boost vaccination rates in Europe’s worst laggard, Bulgaria has rolled out a scheme to give pensioners cash to receive jabs and prevent the country from becoming a coronavirus “ghetto”.

Under the plan unveiled on Thursday by newly elected prime minister Kiril Petkov, Bulgaria will hand each retiree a cash payment of 75 levs (£32) for getting a Covid vaccine.

Mr Petkov, a 41-year-old Harvard University-educated entrepreneur, has vowed to boost jab rates across the country of 7 million, which has the lowest Covid vaccination and highest death rates of any nation in the European Union.

Only 27 per cent of Bulgaria’s adult population is fully inoculated, while at least 30,359 people in the nation have died from the virus so far.

“Our government’s priority is not to have as many people dying from Covid, but to ease the pressure on hospitals and mainly to protect our elderly who are most at risk,” Mr Petkov said.

Bulgaria hopes the new incentive, a hefty sum for a country where the minimum monthly wage is about £263, will encourage 300,000 Bulgarians over the age of 65 to get vaccinated by the end of January.

The payments, which will begin on 1 January and extend until 30 June, are retroactive and could be collected by pensioners who have already been fully inoculated.

Mr Petkov, elected as the head of a coalition government last month, told Politico he hopes to get half of Bulgarians inoculated by April. Strategies include hiring marketing firms to come up with promotional schemes and making a trusted virologist, Radka Argirova, the face of the vaccination programme.

“I want to make her the Dr Fauci of Bulgaria,” he told Politico, referring to the US’s chief medical adviser.

In his TV appearance, the Bulgarian prime minister warned that the dismal vaccination rates could discourage tourism and investment.

He and Ms Arigova cautioned that the country was at risk of becoming a “Covid ghetto” according to a video distributed to the media.

A combination of government mistrust and misinformation has fuelled vaccine hesitancy in Bulgaria and other eastern European countries, which have struggled to encourage their populations to get vaccinated. Ukraine has also offered a cash incentive to encourage jab uptake.

“We want to be a normal European country with vaccination rates that are comparable to the rest of Europe,” Mr Petkov said. “And that depends on each of us.”