Coronavirus: Anti-vaxxers, fake news drives Romania's surge of COVID-19 deaths

Anti-vaxxers and fake news have been blamed for Romania's surge of COVID-19 deaths. 

Romania has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world with around 44 percent of adults having received at least one dose and only about 30 percent are fully vaccinated. 

Romania has Europe's second-lowest vaccination rate, which is only ahead of Bulgaria who have fully vaccinated about 22 percent of their population.

Alongside anti-vaxxers and fake news, complicating matters in Romania is the country has been without a Government since October, when a centrist coalition unraveled.

An Orthodox Church bishop in southern Romania spread the anti-vaccination message to his worshipers on October 14. 

"Don't be fooled by what you see on TV, don't be scared of COVID," the Bishop Ambrose of Giurgiu said. "Don't rush to get vaccinated." 

The Bishop is now under criminal investigation by the police for spreading dangerous disinformation, but his anti-vaccine call has been echoed by prominent politicians and influential voices on the internet.

In recent weeks Romania has reported the world's highest per capita death rate from COVID-19.

Last Tuesday, nearly 600 Romanians died, the most during the pandemic according to the New York Times. 

The country's death rate relative to population is almost seven times as high as the United States', and almost 17 times as high as Germany's.

"This wave is far worse than the others. it is like a war," said Dr. Anca Streinu-Cercel, who works at the biggest infectious disease hospital, Bals National Institute, in the Romanian capital, Bucharest. "We go into our wards but don't know when we will come out."

Hospitals are so overrun that six ambulances carrying COVID patients needing urgent help waited outside for medical workers to find space inside overflowing wards.

Dr. Streinu-Cercel says the new surge of COVID cases could've been avoided as "the only real reason anyone is here is because they did not get vaccinated."

Vaccine hesitancy and fake news is being blamed for the slow turnout with the country's past making it hard for people to believe information doctors and army members - who are helping lead the vaccination effort - tell them. 

"Fake news has a huge influence on our population, and in Eastern Europe in general," said Valeriu Ghorghita, an army colonel leading Romania's vaccination effort. "Something we all have in common in this part of Europe is our political history of communism."

Romania is well known for having long-time dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu in power and Ghorhita says "nobody trusted their neighbors, nobody trusted the authorities, nobody trusted anybody." 

This has made many people suspicious of what officials and doctors tell them to do, especially when many people turn to the internet and see anti-vaccination messages. 

"Everyone is suddenly an expert and fake news is everywhere, 24 hours a day," lamented Silvia Nica, the head emergency doctor at Bucharest University Hospital. 

The hospital he works at is short on beds so it erected a big treatment tent in the parking lot and turned the lobby into a COVID ward. 

"I never thought this virus would stay so long. We are all exhausted."