SOFIA, Dec 23 (Reuters) – Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on Thursday that elderly people who get a COVID-19 shot will be eligible for a cash reward as part of his government’s drive to boost the vaccination rates, the lowest in the European Union.
Petkov, who took office this month, said every retired Bulgarian will get a one-off payment of 75 levs ($43.40) in addition to their pension in the next six months when vaccinated with a first or second dose. Pensioners who have already received three shots will also be eligible for the add-on.
His centrist coalition government is also launching a wide-spread information campaign to convince vaccine-sceptic Bulgarians to get inoculated and avoid a new deadly wave of the coronavirus that Petkov said could hit as early as mid-January.
“Our government’s priority is not to have as many people dying from COVID, but to ease the pressure on hospitals and mainly to protect our elderly who are most at risk,” Petkov said in a televised statement.
Bulgaria is the 27-member EU’s least vaccinated nation, with only 27% of its adult population fully inoculated. The country has the highest COVID-19 related death rates in the bloc.
Petkov said he hoped the new incentive would help the Balkan country vaccinate about 300,000 Bulgarians over 65 years of age by the end of January.
On Thursday, Bulgaria reported 1,463 new infections, down from a peak in October, and 56 new deaths. The pandemic has killed 30,359 people in the country of 7 million people so far.
Some 16,500 vaccine doses were administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to over 3.6 million, health ministry data showed.
But many Bulgarians still remain sceptical of vaccines amid entrenched mistrust in state institutions, misinformation and contradictory messages from politicians.