Fake vaccination certificates add to Bulgaria’s COVID-19 problems

A protester against COVID-19 restrictions in Sofia, Bulgaria on September 8th. Photo: EPA-EFE / VASSIL DONEV

Medical professionals in Bulgaria are increasingly concerned about what they believe to be a thriving black market for fake documents purporting to prove the holder has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested negative.

“My observations are that most of the people who appear to be vaccinated but are hospitalized have managed to get the records one way or another,” said respected virologist Dr. Radka Argirova on Wednesday the Bulgarian state television.

As of Wednesday morning, 2,573 people were reported to test positive for COVID-19, of whom 333 were vaccinated.

Eighty-seven died from coronavirus-related complications, three of whom were vaccinated. A total of 8.12 percent of recent hospital admissions were fully vaccinated.

Argirova’s comments marked the first time a medical professional looked at the spread of fake certificates in the country on television, although this is a topic that is discussed on social media.

Unconfirmed rumors on Facebook and Twitter put the price of a fake vaccination certificate or negative PCR test at around 200 to 300 euros.

Argirova’s comment comes after the Bulgarian Medical Union issued a statement on September 19 calling for faster mass vaccination urging authorities to take action against forged vaccination documents.

So far, the Chief Health Minister Stoycho Katzarov has not dealt with the issue.

Local media reported the first cases of forged documents being sold in May. On August 10, the authorities in the city of Gabrovo closed a laboratory that was issuing fake certificates and negative PCR tests.

On September 8, the Bulgarian National Radio reported that the border authorities in Greece were investigating dubious certificates issued in Bulgaria.

Black market counterfeiting is another problem faced by the Ministry of Health in its tough battle to promote vaccination. Bulgaria is the country with the lowest vaccination rate in Europe.

“The only reason we can’t get out of the pandemic is because the nation is unwilling to get vaccinated. By now we should have covered 50 percent of the population, ”said Argirova.

A total of 1,318,066 people have been fully vaccinated so far, which corresponds to around 20 percent of the population. However, the number could be even lower as it is not known how many people have fake certificates.

Argirova blamed the lack of an adequate information campaign for the widespread anti-vaccination sentiment in the country, which has also led to regular protests against pandemic-related restrictions.

According to research by the polling institute Gallup International, which was published on September 21, a total of 45 percent of Bulgarians are skeptical of vaccines. The number is similar to previous studies from late 2020 and early 2021.

The situation is expected to further complicate Bulgaria’s exit from the pandemic.

Bulgaria initially escaped a large increase in cases in the first half of 2020, but infections and hospital admissions reached critical levels in the winter.

After low numbers of cases were observed in late spring and summer, COVID-19 began to spread rapidly across the country in late August 2021. The country’s largest cities – Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Burgas – are also the biggest hotspots for infection.

According to the latest data released by the Ministry of Health, there have been 497,970 confirmed cases and 20,725 fatalities since the pandemic began.

There are currently 5,152 people in the hospital, 449 of them in intensive care.

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