BUCHAREST, September 23 (Reuters) – After going through three waves of the COVID-19 pandemic without getting sick, Roxana Pascu, 55, thought she was healthy enough to resist the virus and decided to refuse the vaccine .
Today, Pascu, who runs a small business, is one of some 1,040 COVID-19 patients currently in intensive care in Romania, where cases have more than doubled in the past week and where care beds intensive are becoming dangerously rare.
With the second-lowest vaccination rate in the European Union, Romania is bracing for a fourth wave of a pandemic that is expected to overwhelm hospitals where medical staff are already at the end of their rope.
“I thought if I made it through three waves without getting infected, I could get through another one without the vaccine,” said Pascu, her voice so weak she could barely speak.
While the European Union has fully vaccinated 72% of its adult population overall, Romania has only succeeded 34%, revealing ingrained mistrust of state institutions, disinformation campaigns, infrastructure rural poor and poor immunization education.
The government, which relaxed restrictions despite a low dose of vaccine, missed its goal of vaccinating 10 million people by September, with just over 5 million vaccinated. About 40% of medical and school staff were not vaccinated and authorities have so far not made this mandatory.
Romania had only 32 intensive care beds on Wednesday and struggled to add more due to understaffing. Daily infection rates are approaching a record high of over 10,000 and public health officials this month estimated Romania could see 15,000 to 20,000 new cases daily in October. Read more
In the capital Bucharest, Beatrice Mahler, director of the Marius Nasta Institute of Pulmonology, was trying to staff a mobile intensive care unit.
“At the moment, I have big, big problems opening these beds, because we cannot work without staff. “
The institute’s morgue is also at full capacity and is looking to rent body freezers, she said.
“I’m scared because I don’t know how much we can help if there aren’t enough of us,” said Anita Timofte, head intensive care nurse at the institute. “I… suspect there won’t be enough room for how many people are unlucky enough to get sick.” “
Restrictions, including weekend curfews, are being reintroduced in towns and villages where the number of cases is high. Schools are moving more and more online.
Along with efforts to find more staff and provide more beds, authorities plan to send mobile vaccination units to schools and have introduced a lottery with vouchers and cash prizes to boost vaccinations.
“What is essential is being able to provide specialized medical care to those who need it. Human resources are what limit us, ”said Deputy Health Minister Andrei Baciu.
As for Pascu, she plans to be vaccinated after her recovery. The same goes for Raul Adin, a 20-year-old patient breathlessly through a ventilator.
“I plan 100% to get the vaccine,” he said.
Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Octv Ganea; Editing by Raïssa Kasolowsky
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.