Health Ministry tries new incentives as Covid vaccine rates fall

Despite COVID-19 vaccination rates falling over the past several weeks in the Czech Republic, the country’s Health Ministry has raised its vaccination target from the original 70 to 75 percent. A new campaign is now being rolled out by the ministry which includes the promise that the wearing of face masks will end once three-quarters of the adult population are fully inoculated. Currently, the overall vaccination rate among the adult population lies at 66 percent.

A new pledge has begun appearing on the social media channels of the Czech Health Ministry: “We just have to vaccinate 9 percent more of the population and our children will not have to wear face masks in schools. Help us convince those who have not yet got the vaccine.”  Other posts featuring the same slogan are also promising to end the wearing of respirators at work and in shops if the target is met.

Health Minister Adam Vojtěch told Czech Television on Sunday that the new target is in reaction to the more infectious Delta mutation.

Adam Vojtěch | Photo: Office of Czech Government

“The original target was 70 percent of the adult population being fully vaccinated. We have now raised this target to 75 percent due to the Delta mutation. It would of course be better to have an even higher rate than that, but we have to be realistic. This is why we have launched this new campaign. We are trying to get people to help us cross the finish line.”

The health minister hopes that the 75 percent target could be reached sometime during the autumn of this year. The aim is to prevent the onset of an epidemic wave similar to that which broke out last autumn and left hospitals overcrowded.

However, some health experts are more sceptical, pointing to the fact that vaccination rates have been on a downward trend over the past several weeks and that the campaigns do not seem to be working. For example, the most recent data from Sunday, September 5, show that the day had the lowest number of vaccinated individuals since late February (3,814).

One of the sceptics is the President of the Czech Medical Chamber Milan Kubek.

Milan Kubek | Photo: Dana Špicarová,  Czech Radio

“The Delta mutation requires 85 to 90 percent to either be vaccinated or have antibodies, so I think we have no chance of reaching collective immunity this season. Nevertheless, we do have to keep trying to get as many people as possible vaccinated, to provide third booster shots and try and thus minimise the effects of the upcoming wave as much as possible.”

A total of 55.8 percent of the Czech population have so far been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with a further 1.8 percent of the population waiting for their second dose. This currently places the Czech Republic in 19th place in the overall EU-wide comparison. As of Sunday, the EU average lay at 58.8 percent of the overall population being fully vaccinated.

Health Minister Vojtěch told Czech Television that he expects unregistered vaccination centres to continue operating until October, with these facilities also offering booster shots. A gradual shift from large vaccine centres, such as the O2 Arena in Prague which is closing this September, is expected in favour of vaccines being provided in hospitals and at GP offices.