Bulgaria and COVID-19 vaccine ageism

May 20, 2021 | All posts, Country reports, Relevant news and stories

Peter Lloyd-Sherlock 20 May 2021.

Today, the UK’s Guardian newspaper published this report on the Bulgarian government’s decision to exclude the vast majority of older people from COVID-19 vaccination [link]. As a result, only around ten per cent of the country’s over-80s have been vaccinated to date.

Bulgarian academic Dimitrina Petrova is quoted in The Guardian:

“In Bulgaria, those over 65 were in the fourth group on vaccination priority lists, giving way to pretty much everyone else in society – the health workforce, teaching staff, anyone involved in basic public life activities”.

A separate media report on 26 April 2021 claimed that Bulgaria has the highest rate of Covid-19 related hospitalisation in Europe, and that most people aged over 80 were being denied hospital admission, in order to prioritise younger people [link].

Current data [Hannah Ritchie, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, Diana Beltekian, Edouard Mathieu, Joe Hasell, Bobbie Macdonald, Charlie Giattino, Cameron Appel, Lucas Rodés-Guirao and Max Roser (2020) – “Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19)”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: link [Online Resource]] show that reported COVID-19 mortality in Bulgaria is 17,000, although this is thought to be a substantial under-estimate of the actual levels. During the pandemic, Bulgaria has seen the highest rate of overall excess mortality among older people of any country in Europe, including the UK [link].

Bulgaria is not the only country that is focussing COVID-19 vaccination on people at younger ages. The Global Platform has published blogs on this with reference to India, The Philippines, Peru and Indonesia. This explicitly ageist and unethical policy has been publicly criticised by the Director General of the World Health Organisation, who said:

“There is a disturbing narrative in some countries that it’s OK if older people die. It’s not OK… It is important that everywhere older people are prioritised for vaccination. Those most at risk of severe disease and death from COVID-19, including health workers and older people, must come first. And they must come first everywhere.” [link]

We urge the governments of these and other countries to ensure that access to COVID-19 vaccines is determined on the basis of need, rather than discriminatory criteria.