Eastern nations see vaccination rates as low as 22%, while Western states hit 80%

In a packed intensive care unit for coronavirus patients in Romania’s capital, Bucharest, 55-year-old Adrian Pica sits on his bed receiving supplementary oxygen to help him breathe. “I didn’t want to get vaccinated because I was afraid,” he told the Associated Press.

Around 72% of adults in the 27-nation European Union have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but a stubbornly low uptake of the shots in some eastern EU nations now risks overwhelming hospitals amid a surge of infections due to the more contagious delta variant.

“Until now I didn’t believe in COVID-19,” Pica, who said his early symptoms left him sweating and feeling suffocated, told The Associated Press. “I thought it was just like the flu. But now I’m sick and hospitalized. I want to get a vaccine.”

Bulgaria and Romania are lagging dramatically behind as the EU’s two least-vaccinated nations, with just 22% and 33% of their adult populations fully inoculated. Rapidly increasing new infections have forced authorities to tighten virus restrictions in the two countries, while other EU nations such as France, Spain, Denmark and Portugal have all exceeded 80% vaccine coverage and eased restrictions.

Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health commissioner, said the “worrying gap” on vaccinations needs urgently addressing. Slovakia, Croatia and Latvia have vaccinated around 50% of all their adults. But jab uptake in many Central and Eastern European countries has remained weak or declined.

In Norway, where about 70% of the population has been vaccinated, authorities on Saturday scrapped restrictions that Prime Minister Erna Holberg called “the strictest measures in peacetime.”

Nordic neighbor Denmark lifted virus restrictions on Sept. 10, while the U.K. has also abandoned most pandemic restrictions due to high vaccine rates.

At Bucharest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology, the ICU’s chief doctor, Genoveva Cadar, says the beds are now at 100% capacity and around 98% of all the virus patients are unvaccinated.

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