Watching with fear as the coronavirus rages in neighbouring countries, doctors in Bosnia are bracing for a new wave in the Balkan nation that has a low vaccination rate and has been among the hardest hit European countries earlier in the pandemic.
In the northwestern town of Banja Luka, staff at the COVID-19 ward of the city’s main hospital warned that hospitalisations had increased in the past days and could explode soon.
Out of the hospital’s basic 300-bed capacity for COVID-19 patients, 223 were already filled, including 32 in intensive care.
During previous surges, the hospital managed to expand its capacity to some 700 beds.
In most Central and Eastern European countries, governments have been reluctant to revert to lockdowns, hoping instead to boost vaccination with COVID-19 passes and pro-vaccination appeals.
Bosnia’s vaccination rate stands at around 22% of the population of 3.2 million, which is among the lowest in Europe.
Doctors in Banja Luka said that most of their current patients had not been vaccinated or had received only one dose.
The vaccinated patients seen by Dr. Danijel Djokic, chief doctor of the COVID-19 ward at the University Clinical Centre of the Republic of Srpska, had generally been older and had all survived the disease.
“I would like to use the opportunity to stress again that vaccination, with any vaccine really, is the only and safest way to battle the COVID-19 infection and this pandemic,” Djokic said.
One unvaccinated COVID-19 patient, 43-year-old Rajko Milunovic said he will get the jab when he is out of hospital.
Many in Bosnia are vaccine sceptics due to general mistrust in the authorities and floating conspiracy theories against vaccination.
“Only when you feel this disease on your skin, on yourself, then you realise how dangerous it is,” Milunovic said.
“I see it all clear now. As soon as I get out of here, I will get vaccinated. I think that the vaccine is a good thing.”