Two actions seek responsibility from Bulgaria for the vaccination failure

One action brought before Sofia District Court and one complaint before the European Committee on Social Rights will hold Bulgaria accountable for the poor COVID-19 vaccination of the most vulnerable people. In the applicants’ opinion, thousands of Bulgarian citizens with pre-existing diseases or over the age of 60 could have avoided serious diseases and death if they had been vaccinated in time. Although the actions will hold accountable the current government, they focus on the acts and omissions of the previous caretaker and regular governments and take into account the positive change in vaccination policy in early 2022.

Today, a group action was brought before the European Committee on Social Rights for the failure of Bulgaria to protect vulnerable groups from serious illness and death from COVID-19. According to the action, elderly people over 60 and people with pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory or nephrological diseases, or cancer are affected. They are exposed to significant risk of serious illness and death when infected with SARS-CoV-2.

“Bulgaria did not provide priority access to vaccines for these groups in the period when access to vaccines was limited, between December 2020 and May 2021,” states the action submitted to the European Committee on Social Rights by Open Society European Policy Institute.

The action refers mainly to the manner in which the Bulgarian health authorities identified and implemented the five vaccination process phases and the various priority groups in them, according to the National Plan for Vaccination against COVID-19 adopted by Council of Ministers on 7 December 2020.

We recall that, according to it, elderly people and chronically ill ones fell into the fourth phase — not only after medical staff, staff and users of social services who are at high risk of infection, but also after “the employees involved in maintaining the functioning of basic public life activities,” which were determined “according to lists prepared in advance.”

The vague wording used by the National Plan for Vaccination to define Phase 3 allowed all people to be vaccinated before the vulnerable people listed in Phase 4,” explained Adela Kachaunova, attorney-at-law and Director of the Legal Protection Programme of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. The action further emphasizes that even after the introduction of the Green Corridors and actual launch of phase 4, the authorities have made no effort to give vulnerable citizens access to vaccination. As a result, in the period between January and May 2021, 8,813 people aged 60 and over died of Covid-19 in Bulgaria, which represents over 80% of all Covid-19-related deaths during this period. There are no public statistics on the proportion of other deaths of people with high-risk pre-existing diseases. By doing so, Bulgaria has violated the right to life and right to protection of health of these vulnerable people.

The group action brought before ECSR also addresses the lack of adequate communication regarding the need for vaccination both during the governance of the last government of Boyko Borisov, and caretaker government. The action also states that Bulgaria has failed to fulfil its obligation to properly and adequately inform and educate people — especially the most vulnerable ones — of the importance of receiving Covid-19 vaccine as a means of protection. The document insists that ECSR points out immediate measures to be taken by the Bulgarian government to avoid new cases of preventable loss of life.

European Committee on Social Rights, a Council of Europe institution, monitors the proper implementation of the European Social Charter. This is an international treaty ratified by Bulgaria in 2000, which guarantees the basic social and economic rights of citizens. The group action procedure, such as the one brought against Bulgaria, allows the European social partners, some international non-governmental organisations, trade unions, etc. to refer directly to the ECSR in case of violations of some of the rights protected by the Charter. If the ECSR upholds the action, it instructs the state to amend the relevant act or practice that led to the violation.

Meanwhile, Bulgarian Helsinki Committee brought an action before SDC under Article 71, paragraph 3 of Protection against Discrimination Act (PDA), due to the fact that the National Plan for Vaccination against COVID-19 in the Republic of Bulgaria has given the group of elderly people and people with concomitant chronic diseases lower priority than that of the other groups in terms of their access to vaccination with the first doses of COVID-19 vaccines delivered in the country.

Both instruments aim to expose bad practices in the management of the vaccination process that have led to health system overload, increased health and social costs, economic losses, long-term harm to children and preventable loss of life, mainly among elderly citizens. The actions were prepared with the support of Open Society Foundations.

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