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Dr. Momchil Baev: Vaccination against COVID-19 must remain a priority in the country

Vaccination against COVID-19 must remain a priority in the country until Bulgaria reaches the average vaccination coverage we see in Europe, regardless of the specific phase of the coronavirus epidemic. Dr. Momchil Baev, Chairman of the Astra Forum Foundation, stated this at the opening of a discussion on outpatient care. The goal of the professional discussion was to increase the knowledge and skills of physicians in their communication with patients about the benefits of vaccination against COVID-19. The host was the Regional Governor of Lovech, Mr. Victor Stoychev, and was attended by the Director of Regional Health Inspectorate – Lovech, Dr. Rositsa Milcheva, general practitioners, specialists in outpatient care, directors of hospitals, doctors from immunization offices, representatives of all structures. All these people have been involved in the COVID pandemic and vaccination process for two years now. The moderators of the forum were Prof. Dr. Radostina Alexandrova from the Institute of Experimental Morphology, Pathology, and Anthropology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the consulting psychologist Mr. Georgi Todorov.

If this meeting had taken place earlier, the issues raised at it would probably have dominated the public agenda. Today, however, we are facing new risks and challenges, such as helping the Ukrainian refugees, and we all have high expectations of you for their medical care and for continuing the vaccination process with them. The regional governor, Viktor Stoychev was categorical in his greeting to the participants, saying that the battle with COVID-19 is not over despite its retreat, and experts are adamant that the virus will continue to circulate among us. He pointed out that we must encourage Bulgarian citizens to take the right decisions for their health.

Although the virus is subsiding, there is evidence that the number of infections has increased by 25% in the Western Pacific Region, so the topic of vaccination remains important, said Prof. Alexandrova. It is too early, according to the World Health Organization, to declare an end to the pandemic, she added. Therefore, during the event, it was discussed in detail how to improve the communication between doctors and patients to overcome the misinformation and public distrust of vaccination. The duration of immunity after infection and vaccination, the indications and contraindications for immunization (including for patients with concomitant diseases), the causes of hesitation and fears – all these were also part of the discussion.

Information about the benefits of vaccination has entered people’s lives through various communication channels. Various reasons and misinformation infected honest communication between doctors and patients with the virus of suspicion.

The main responsibility remained in the hands of general practitioners and their desire to help their patients overcome the confusion, mistrust of vaccines, and avalanches of misinformation. Physicians, in addition to their daily duties, need to address the fears of their patients by using a timely communication strategy adapted to different types of patients. Therefore, Astra Forum Foundation invited to its team the psychologist Mr. Todorov, who in the course of the discussion drew the attention of doctors to the practical benefits of choosing an appropriate communication style tailored to the individual psychological characteristics of different types of patients.

As a moderator and expert in various communication strategies, Mr. Todorov demonstrated to the participants various communication techniques that physicians should apply when working with patients, managing the rational and emotional concerns about vaccination.

The main message to health professionals is that there is an approach to each patient to dispel doubts and reduce hesitation. Physicians understand their new role that as leaders with horizontal thinking and high trust among their patients, they must maintain a high level of professional competence, deal with irrational concerns, and be informed and trained on an ongoing basis.

The discussion, held in Lovech by the Regional Health Inspectorate, is part of a series of similar events taking place across the country. Astra Forum Foundation organizes these events, with the support of America for Bulgaria Foundation, the Ministry of Health, regional health inspectorates in the country, and an alliance of international and non-governmental organizations, including the EC, World Health Organization, and UNICEF. As well as experts from the Center for Analysis and Crisis Communications.

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