When she rolled up her sleeve in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to take her first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, Fata Keco was afraid of possible unwanted side effects.
But she said the worst she had to face over the next few days was “moderately bothersome pain” in her left arm around the injection site.
More importantly, the 52-year-old independent housekeeper joined the global community of vaccine believers after months of “being very sensitive” to what she now describes as “the most ridiculous theories.”
She told The Associated Press that some of those she heard were “that the coronavirus doesn’t exist, that journalists are paid to cause panic, that planes spray us with viruses at night, that vaccines were used by the powers that be to implant us with tracking chips. ”
âNow I feel relieved that I did something to protect my health after putting myself in danger for a long time,â Keco said.
“Also, I don’t mind that it makes my life easier if I decide to take a trip abroad.”
She is not alone in her transformation, especially after many European countries have started to toughen their anti-virus rules, including requiring proof of vaccination from foreign visitors.
“I want to travel and study abroad and for that I have to get the vaccine,” said Esma Dzaka, 18, after receiving her first dose on Tuesday in Sarajevo.
This week, health authorities in Sarajevo stepped up their efforts to administer Covid-19 vaccines as widely as possible, hindered so far by public mistrust and a wave of disinformation. They have started sending nurses to distribute vaccines to local council offices and city shopping malls in the hope that easy access will persuade more people to get the vaccine.
Sarajevo’s top health official Haris Vranic said he believed some vaccine skeptics had recently changed their minds, not only because they wanted to travel freely abroad, but also because “the numbers don’t lie”.
“The statistic is clear – between 92% and 94% of our people who died in the third and fourth (current) waves (of Covid-19) were not vaccinated,” Vranic said.
Bosnia, which is still struggling to recover from a devastating ethnic war in 1992-95, has so far vaccinated just under a quarter of its 3.3 million people, one of the vaccination rates the lowest in Europe.
But while such a level of mistrust of vaccines, which have been widely available since late last spring, perhaps comes as no surprise in poor, corrupt, and ethnically divided Bosnia, Similar misfortunes have befallen many of its Balkan neighbors, including some members of the European Union. members.
In Romania, an EU country of around 19 million people, the vaccination rate hovered around 28% until mid-October, when a sharp increase in the number of new Covid-19 infections. and deaths forced some hospitals to put body bags in their hallways as morgues ran out of space.
The fear – combined with tougher anti-virus measures introduced by authorities, including a nighttime curfew and requiring proof of vaccination, recent recovery, or recent negative test to enter most public places – has made to climb the vaccination rate in Romania to more than 40% by December 10, according to Our World in Data.
“I was afraid there are so many (negative) rumors” about vaccines, said Ofelia Gligor, who received her first Covid-19 vaccine on a cold December day this week at the main vaccination center in Sighisoara , a small, historic Romanian town 300 kilometers (185 miles) north of Bucharest, the capital.
The 18-year-old trainee nurse had to overcome her fears for a practical reason – without proof of vaccination, she would not be allowed to complete her training program at the local hospital.
“My advice to people now is to get vaccinated, because sooner or later vaccines will become compulsory” for everyone, she said.
A similar scenario has occurred in Croatia, which joined the EU in 2013. Amid a sharp rise in infections and daily deaths from Covid-19, Croatian authorities on November 15 introduced a vaccination mandate for all public sector workers and all citizens using their services.
Despite sporadic protests against Covid-19 restrictions, Croatia’s overall vaccination rate has since increased steadily by more than 1.2% per week to encompass nearly 55% of its population of 4.2 million. December 11.
In ethnically and administratively fragmented Bosnia, where pandemic management jurisdiction is split between 14 different levels of government that do not always act at the same pace, the introduction of mandatory immunization passes against Covid-19 is still pending. Although the indoor mask and social distancing warrants remain, their application is haphazard.
Bosnia has seen more than 12,900 Covid-19 deaths, but for some people like Keco it took more than death statistics to understand the reality of the pandemic. It took an argument with his daughter, Mahira.
“She said: Mom, the vaccines are 100% working. Millions of people have already been vaccinated and they are all fine, don’t be stupid,” Keco recalls, adding that her son-in-law’s friend – who “has claimed he would not be caught dead getting vaccinated “- was infected and Covid-19” left him feeling broken “.
âI finally realized I had to get the vaccine if I want to be safe,â Keco said, shaking his head in puzzlement. “People and their chatter drove me crazy. For a while at least, I believed all of their silly stories.”