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Romania‘s Covid Jab Lag: a Country Trapped in Mistrust, Faulty Infrastructure and Trauma (Episode 19)

Romania‘s Vaccination Lag: a Country Trapped in Mistrust, Faulty Infrastructure and Trauma

Eva & Daiva @ The Inoculation

As omicron cases surge, the majority of Romanians are still not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Romania has the 2nd lowest vaccination rate in the EU. It is also the country where residents are the most likely in the EU to learn about science and technology from television as opposed to other sources. Together with Italians, they are the most likely in the EU to believe that early humans roamed the Earth along with dinosaurs. Where does this pervasive distrust in the scientific consensus come from? Does television have a polarizing effect – and how can it play a more positive role? To understand the situation better, Daiva and Eva talk to Crina Boros, a Romanian journalist, who interviewed two prominent experts – Mircea Toma and Barbu Mateescu.

You can find Romania’s COVID-19 statistics here.

Our reporting is supported by IJ4EU. Please subscribe to our newsletter, and this show on Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, Spotify or another platform of your choice. Follow us on Facebook as @theinoculation, on Twitter as @TInoculation, and on Instagram as @the_inoculation.


Crina Boros  0:07
In the beginning of the vaccination campaign in January, people flocked to get their vaccine. The first person was vaccinated in Romania on to December December 2020. By the way, I think it was one of the highest facts in uptakes. In Europe. The message was driven by doctors and scientists based professionals. And then the message was somehow hijacked by politicians and some very loud, isolated anti vaxxers who gained popularity on telly.

Daiva Repeckaite  0:46
We just heard from Karina Borash. She's a Romanian journalist who lives in London,

Eva Schaper  0:50
and we asked Karina to take a look at the situation in Romania to see why this country is having such problems. vaccinating its people. As of this recording, mid December, just about 40% of Romanians have had two jobs of the corona vaccine.

Hello, and welcome to the inoculation. I'm Eva Schaper, and join me in my colleague dive over Qaeda as we look at how anti vaccination forces are changing society and politics.

Daiva Repeckaite  1:31
Today we're going to Romania because the experience of Romania has many lessons for countries around the world which have access to the vaccine, but the population is not convinced by its political leaders. So now let's welcome Karina to the inoculation. Hi, Karina.

Crina Boros  1:46
Hi, I'm Karina Borash on the Romanian journalist based in London,

and I do data driven investigations usually but also traditional investigations. And I've been invited by the flocculation to talk about the situation in Romania and sociologist barber Obama, Tesco and broadcast watchdog. Michel toma are two of the experts that I've talked to for this podcast. Martez co contributes to press and has been a guest in many discussions and a respected voice in the public sphere in Romania. Me and Chuck DOMA by formation is up psychologist he is a member of Romania's national audio visual Council, and has formally been a written press watchdog and also a journalist as well.

Daiva Repeckaite  2:37
And what would you say in a few words, what is it like in Romania right now? When did you last go there your soul by the way,

Crina Boros  2:45
I was with my family in August. And the situation at that point was relaxed. Because the beginning of the summer, that then Prime Minister announced that Romania has bitten the pandemic. So people were allowed to go to festivals, and people were not fearing COVID Most of them anymore. However, there were enough people on the street wearing masks that I had seen, or in shops. And there were also restrictions. For example, I baptized my baby daughter, and the priest was not allowed to do all the touching that they would normally do in the church during the ceremony. And there were restrictions how many people could congregate in August. Right now there's a few things going on in Romania. So obviously the cases have piled up over the autumn. The hospitals were in crisis when I spoke with journalists and sociologists and psychologists and the press was writing about lack of medical oxygen. And they were again discussing the idea of the green certificate or the COVID passports, which has not yet been voted on fully. This comes at the beginning of winter, which domino would last until March or even into March. The vaccination rate is second from the bottom in the EU. But the threat of a COVID passport for a return to normal is bringing people to vaccination centers. They are also fed up with knockdowns and restrictions and the vaccine offers the way forward. Now there is finally talk of appeal that has 90% efficiency rights. And Romania has yet again the new government in Romania is coming out of a row of governmental crisis. Imagine that from the start of the pandemic or even before then, until now the country had six I believe health ministers even the prime minister seat was not very stable with several people taking turns the freshly faced elected prime minister has just come in. And for how long? Who knows? It's like they're playing tag with Minister seats. I've never seen anything like it. And I can't imagine how that can bring any coherence to any public health plan in Romania. Well,

Daiva Repeckaite  5:20
is it only to do with a pandemic? Or do you think that there's another crisis that has to do with something else that maybe we don't know of?

Crina Boros  5:30
There's the political crisis in Romania, as the parties are so fragmented and so many emerging that whenever a pollster company looks at party popularity, it looks at at least 10 parties.

Eva Schaper  5:46
Well, actually, the the non vaccinated people are in the majority, who are the people who get vaccinated in Romania, is there any way to characterize them just short

Crina Boros  5:56
of 40% of the population in Romania is considered to be fully vaccinated, going back as to who is vaccinated. Although there is no specific demographics on who took the vaccine, we can make an informed guess the infrastructure for vaccination at the countryside is not great. And this is something we often forget, we always tend to blame first antivaxxers but it's not necessarily true. In Romania, almost half of the population lives in the rural area. This is the largest rural population in the EU. Now, the rural area in Romania has very poor health infrastructure. And getting to a vaccination center might not be so easy. And do people get any help with this? There have been many caravans that had to be organized in order to increase the vaccination rates in the countryside in Romania. But we can make an informed guess and say most of the people who took the vaccine so far are mainly in the European area,

Daiva Repeckaite  7:03
can we take a step back and to understand it better? Can you tell us a bit more about what Romania is like? What what kind of society are we talking about? Where do all these trends play out? So, is it a religious society or a secular society? We already know with rather rural society comparatively, is it an educated societies? What is it like?

Crina Boros  7:26
Romania is a country of contrasts where you can have several different worlds a few 10s of kilometers apart, you have top earners like IT experts say, who earn as much as people earn in Western Europe. Then if you go deeper into the country, then you have a class of people that earn okay for Romania. And then you might have those on the poverty line or below, you know, manner in which we are trailing at the bottom of EU citizens earning power. Many families have seen their relatives becoming economic migrants. And in a country where the society whose nucleus is expected to be one family, not career, like say it's in the UK. The necessity to live abroad comes with an inner struggle or family tensions. Romanians were found by a study or two to be the most religious nation in Europe. The church hears it has political power.

Eva Schaper  8:30
What I've often seen is that Romania is extremely good in natural sciences. So there's see a lot of people winning, you know, math, it was a math Olympics chemistry Olympics, physics Olympics coming from Romania. So my question really is this is clearly there's a lot of scientific knowledge in the country, but it doesn't seem to have an effect on people's willingness to be vaccinated.

Crina Boros  8:58
Their reluctance to be vaccinated is mostly a reflection of people's distrust in public authorities. When I say public authorities, I mean state authorities in the sense that they see the politicians they don't trust them, not necessarily their local doctor. And in the beginning, which is funny enough, in the beginning of the vaccination campaign in January, people flocked to get their vaccine, the first person who was vaccinated in Romania on to December December 2020, by the way, I think it was one of the highest vaccine uptakes in Europe. And then things went it's up. That's because the beginning the message was driven by doctors and science based professionals. And then the message was somehow hijacked by politicians and some very loud, isolated anti vaxxers, who gains popular RT tele. Michel Thomas speaks eloquently about this and he describes what happened in the beginning. Why? It was difficult to have pro and con debates around vaccination.

Unknown Speaker  10:15
coverage in this bill Binney is Toby gatos as good opinion a pro contra Abrini opinion as the opposite. Yeah, that really is the verbal display the verbal steam when

Crina Boros  10:27
you have people in studios discussing pro or against vaccination pro or against masks, you have people like doctors or science based professionals, which know very well that there's nothing that works 100%. So their response will always be measured. On the other hand, you have the people who are against any of these measures, and they believe 100% 110 Sometimes, and what they're saying they present an opinion, right. And the it was an unfair dynamic because the doctors or science based professionals could not compete with the loud voices who believed fully in their opinions, and it made the medical profession and their colleagues look weak. And this undermined in a way that trust people could have in getting the vaccines in doing what the government told them to do to protect themselves. So what they did was to bring in only people who are pro vaccination or against vaccination or pro masks or anti or, you know, people who are pro or people who are against so they could everyone presented their opinion without having to interact with each other. It was seen as a non healthy cocktail if you'd like. On the other hand, there were also this promo calls them marginal doctors introduce

Unknown Speaker  11:57
made each currency may ditch a developer education niche, the middle to marginal, in profess here are

Crina Boros  12:08
connected to the medical professional, maybe they are not full time doctors or maybe just have a clinic here and there. Somehow they managed to have deals with TV shows where they were a permanent guests there. They became part of the furniture. And when you endorse such a person, when you endorse such a person, they somehow gain credentials, and people start to trust them and to listen to them anyway. Right. And many of the people who came there were anti protection measures. were brought in that in some cases, by by producers who are hungry for money and audio, and some producers who are more responsible than others.

Daiva Repeckaite  12:57
Exactly from the interview with Barbuda Tesco you have a very interesting quote that

Unknown Speaker  13:03
he does the unfair Akuma Bella's sound, because I believe the vast

Daiva Repeckaite  13:08
majority of the vaccinated are now trying to use different unapproved drugs. So the expert says there are people who are aware of the existence of the disease of the need to protect themselves against it, but not trust a solution provided by the state

Unknown Speaker  13:24
or non credit interest relative to this time,

Daiva Repeckaite  13:26
can we unpack a bit? What is this urge to find their own way their own methods to treat themselves?

Crina Boros  13:34
I guess in Romania, if you connected back to the collective trauma brought about by Communism, people had to rely on themselves and their families to be well to survive, sometimes, especially during the 80s when there wasn't sufficient food around for everyone.

Eva Schaper  13:54
Can we say does this stem from Romania as passed as a totalitarian state? Is that where we can place the roots of this

Crina Boros  14:05
Romania went through decades of the harshest communism regime in the region. In the past, personal freedoms were repressed. For the electricity and heat were rationed in the 80s. Men with long hair were lifted off the streets by police and had their hair cut. wearing blue jeans would make you a target of the local security Tata informer. This has inflicted a collective trauma making people want to rebel against the system and it hasn't healed. The political sphere has not been able to gain people's trust over so many years since since December 1989. Where when Josha screw the dictator was killed and Romania made the transition slowly. The other thing that I found interesting was that according to therapist Esther Burrell, Romanian families deal with the biggest generation gap in the Western world. Because the country absorb as much change in less than 30 years, as the rest of Europe has observed in a century. While I still remember the rationing cards that I had, in my hand, when I was four years old when I went to the food store to get bread, there wasn't much on the shelves, everything was sent to export even though we were producing massively. Going back to the reasons why Romanians have lost trust in authorities. This is also because of the endemic corruption that permeates the country at every level.

Daiva Repeckaite  15:40
And there's also a very interesting point by Barbuda Tesco

Unknown Speaker  15:45
important along with your courage this directly this is not a cubicle Jelle Kurama Resha the judges aspect the Rakuen bazaruto Betcha Well, she got so she

Daiva Repeckaite  15:58
public health directorates locally, places where party members are placed and where they place their children and relatives, and spouses.

Crina Boros  16:07
So to get to cushioned position in a local institution. Ask her Romanian how it's done. And they'll tell you you need to know the right people in to bribe the right people, you need to belong to a certain circle. It's not like you go to a job interview and the most skilled gets gets hired. And then you see people who can't do that, who are in charge and stats. And then you see people who have to be skilled at communicating with the masses, and they're not the you see people who are uneducated, having to answer scientific questions, not everyone, not 100%, I have to say that I'm sure there are unicorns, because of the endemic corruption in Romania. When somebody in the government comes up with an idea for a solution, it is usually viewed with suspicion. Or if you look at the comments below, any news website, you will see debates people want to talk, you know, their freedom of speech was restricted for so long in the past and carrying on that collective trauma. There's I mean, there's such an intense debate by common five reporter is blamed of something or the interview is blamed on something or they're fighting with each other, you know, or somebody is accusing somebody else of something else. And I think also what has been carried on from those years was a sense of sometimes conspiracy. And you could see that being said by Michel Toma, a little bit just touched on because you can't get into the realm of vaccines and pandemics without noticing how many people around you might think, hey, this was made in the lab, or or, you know, when you see questions like, does the vaccine contain fetuses and so on and so forth. You get to the rearm of psychosis at this stage. I think one point the barbel Montesquieu made

Unknown Speaker  18:10
triggered by the nearby you start Omnia la Jabatan Booba dispara. Pratik says traditional Dinobot diverse traditionalists just the current survey then says

Crina Boros  18:22
that Romania was so much behind with the vaccine uptake, that he believes that once people will be fully vaccinated across Europe and you'll you'll have, let's say the pandemic will be no longer a pandemic in Western Europe, it will be just something you manage. He believes there will still be pockets of pandemic in Romania, because of this lack of infrastructure because of people trust in authorities because all of these toxic combinations not really helping the vaccine uptake.

Daiva Repeckaite  18:58
What is the experience of Romanians abroad? Do they have any voice in this? Are they saying that you know, look, similar vaccination drives are happening in other countries more organized countries may be more transparent

Crina Boros  19:11
Romanian have migrated for economic reasons in many different countries. And then you have the experience of Romanians in Germany, which is different from the experience of Romanians in in Britain, and in Britain is very different. Whether you live in Scotland or in England are very different from the people who live in Spain, Portugal or Italy. Yeah, so UK is seen as one of the examples of vaccination success in it but in London where I live, people around me don't want to get vaccinated. And I don't mean my family. I mean people if you talk to taxi drivers, if you talk to people from certain minorities are so anti vaccine, unless they are constrained, they view it as something they don't need to do. It's a cognitive dissonance between the message put across by The Prime Minister showing that Britain is an example that needs to be looked at as a success in terms of COVID vaccination campaign, and what I see in zone two, three in London, where you have professionals, young professionals with families and where people tell you, and I'll get it, if I have no other alternative terms of what Romanians would bring home from here is, again, a sentiment of lack of clarity, but I can't speak for them, I think.

Eva Schaper  20:34
Okay, so So my question maybe it's difficult to answer as well. Question is, really is this anti vaccine sentiment, something that's coming from Romania to the Romanian community in London, for example.

Crina Boros  20:47
So there are many Romanian households in Britain that say, that would watch Romanian Telly, and they would be influenced by their feelings towards what's being said or shown. There are also people who have jobs where they have to travel quite a bit. And then it's not a matter of choice. If they want to put bread on the table, they have to take the vaccine, right. If you're in social care, if you're in a hospital, if you're working in a nursery, and so on, if you want to keep your job well, you know, keep the job as it is you need to be vaccinated. Requirements requirement in the sense that, hey, you are avert you are a vulnerable group. You need to get vaccinated. So it's seen as a duty of care from the employer towards the employee, right? To make sure that if you're in a vulnerable group of professionals, you have first access to vaccine. And I've seen families where the child let's say he is 30 in his 30s. And his mom is much older, let's say just hitting end of her 60s. And he is vaccinated and she isn't. She tends to get into this whole debate around was it or was not manmade? Or why should I get vaccinated? You know, and it hasn't happened to me. Look what happened to my sister, she's 75. And she didn't die or why should I get vaccines not that bad. One thing that mutual, toma said, which I found striking, because I didn't hear anyone else saying it before. This is with regards to people's opinion on telling. He said that if this is a scientifically proven fact, ie the vaccine works. It's not okay to have a pro and against discussion with somebody who doesn't believe with somebody whose opinion you raise at the same level as a scientifically proven fact. It's a toxic combination that undermines the credibility of a scientifically proven fact. How can somebody's opinion be treated in the same way as a scientifically proven fact? You can't have shows with pro and against if you're going to bring anti vaxxers? Who have opinions who have no scientifically proven facts?

Eva Schaper  23:26
Yes, I have to say it's quite fascinating, I really like.

Crina Boros  23:30
And one thing that both domain Montesquieu said it works were press materials of any sorts that this that showed the situation hospitals, that that described what families went through, when somebody got sick with COVID and, and died or maybe recovered when they showed the reality of the lives of the doctors and nurses that were dealing with the burnout, putting a face putting a human face on the pandemic is what resonated with people. And they understood what the danger was. Numbers are abstract politicians are not to be believed. pro and con debates are not leading anywhere. But actually seeing the reality in the press, reading it, seeing it hearing it, it made people sensitive to what was going on, actually in the society was that we're locked locked away, or in lockdown.

Eva Schaper  24:31
So basically making something making the stories more human, making the people affected more, showing their human side was something that worked in Romania.

Crina Boros  24:44
This is good news for a society that had been through the harsh regime of communism because it's still retained. Its empathy. But the fact is when the press started to tour articles of human interest with human faces with human drama, showing what went on behind the scenes. This is what people resonated with, not the stats, and not the rules, and not the politicians. Another thing that happened with them in mass media or that didn't happen most notably is that all sorts of firms and NGOs produced little clips encouraging vaccination that were really cute clips. Now, those clips were never released. I think they had to go through a government filter. And they were never released. What was released was images with a politician or other thing, hey, I'm getting the vaccine. And people did not respond to it because they don't trust politicians. Excellent.

Daiva Repeckaite  25:46
Thank you, Karina.

Crina Boros  25:48
Thank you very much for inviting me. And I hope this is useful to some extent to the people.

Eva Schaper  25:59
And as always, I wanted to remind all our listeners that everything we talked about and everything that's based on a study is going to be linked in the show notes. So please take a look if you want to know more. And we'll also add a transcript of the show to our website www the inoculation comm. If you want to read the transcript

Daiva Repeckaite  26:24
please subscribe to our newsletter. The link is in the show notes. You can follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter

Eva Schaper  26:30
and you can listen to our podcast wherever you like to listen to podcast. That's all

Daiva Repeckaite  26:34
from us. Bye for now. Bye

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