Adrian Pica, 55, is receiving oxygen for his breathing in a crowded intensive care unit for coronavirus victims in Bucharest’s capital. He said, “I was afraid of getting vaccinated so I didn’t want it.”

Around 72% of adult EU citizens have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, a stubbornly low rate of vaccinations in certain eastern EU countries could lead to overcrowding hospitals and an increase in infections from the more contagious Delta variant.

Pica said that he didn’t believe COVID-19 was possible. He stated that his first symptoms caused him to feel suffocated and sweaty. It was like the flu to me. Now I’m sick, and have to be hospitalized. I would like to be vaccinated.

Bulgaria, and Romania are the EU’s least-vaccinated countries. Only 22% and 33% respectively have been fully inoculated. Authorities have had to tighten restrictions on virus transmission in these two countries due to rapidly increasing numbers of new infections. However, other EU countries like France, Spain and Portugal have exceeded 80% vaccine coverage so restrictions have been eased.

Stella Kyriakides is the EU’s health commissar. She stated that the EU needs to address the “worrying gap” in vaccinations. Around half of adults in Latvia, Croatia, and Slovakia have been vaccinated. However, jab coverage in many Central and Eastern European countries is still low or declining.

Norway has vaccinated approximately 70% of its population. Authorities in Norway have removed restrictions that Prime Minister Erna Holland called “the strictest measures” during peacetime. The U.K., on the other hand, has lifted most restrictions related to pandemics due to its high vaccination rates.

Genoveva Cadar (Burgarest’s Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology’s chief physician) says that the ICU’s beds are at 100% capacity, and that 98% of its patients with virus are still unvaccinated.

She said that patients are coming in with more severe forms of the disease than previous waves. Also, many of these patients are younger than those in previous waves. “They end up being intubated very quickly — and the prognosis for them is very grim.”

The number of coronavirus cases in Romania, home to 19 million people, has increased daily over the past month while vaccine uptake has fallen to alarming levels. According to government data, 91.5% COVID-19-related deaths in Romania occurred between September 18 and 23. This was despite the fact that most of these victims had never been vaccinated.

Sunday saw 1,220 patients in Romania’s ICU beds for viruses occupied. In many cases, death was the only thing that freed up ICU beds. The Marius Nasta Institute has a mobile ICU, which opened Monday and is currently occupied by patients.

Beatrice Mahler, hospital manager, told the AP that although she doesn’t know how the hospital will get through the next period of time, they are certain to be there. “We will do all we can (but) there is no winning recipe.”

Vlad Mixich, a Romanian public-health specialist, said to the AP that a combination of a “historic distrust” of authorities and a weak government vaccination campaign had contributed to low vaccination rates among his fellow Romanians.

“Unfortunately, the main communicators during the vaccination campaign were politicians,” he stated, adding that the frequent turnover of health ministers in Romania has had a huge impact on efforts to immunize Romanians.

According to Eurobarometer surveys, 23% of Bulgarians said they don’t want to be vaccinated. This is alarming compared to the 9% in the rest of Europe.

Sabila Marinova is the ICU manager at a hospital located in northern Bulgaria’s Veliko Tarnovo. She claims that none of its COVID-19-infected patients are vaccinated.

She said, “We are very exhausted.” “It seems like this horror doesn’t end.”

Andrei Baciu, vice president of Romania’s national vaccination board, stated that fake news is a key factor in preventing people from being jabbed.

“There is and has been a culture that encourages fake news. “We are working with a team (of specialists) to combat it… right now, there is a high (infections) rate due to low vaccination rates,” said he. He also stated that the government is trying to increase ICU capacity.

Medical workers in Eastern Europe are sometimes exposed to additional risks. A group opposed to vaccinations attacked a medical team working at a mobile vaccination station in Varna, Bulgaria, in September. Stoycho Katsarov, Health Minister, condemned the attack and said that “we won’t allow our doctors to be insulted publicly harassed or humiliated for trying to save lives.”

European governments may have few options to help their vaccine-refractory citizens get vaccinated. The introduction of vaccine passports allows people to display their vaccination status in order to perform daily activities.

Experts believe vaccine skeptics could hinder efforts across Europe to end the pandemic.

Nicoleta Birtea (63), a COVID-19 unvaccinated patient, was awoken by dizziness and sickness a month prior to arriving at the Marius Nasta Institute.

She said that she hoped that she arrived on time and that she understood that the vaccine cannot protect her.