Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
The liberal-conservative Lithuanian government has endorsed this week a proposal by the Social Security and Labour Ministry paving way for one-time 100-euro payments to newly vaccinated seniors aged 75 years and over, and to those who take their booster shots.
The measure is thought to help cope with hesitancy over the vaccination and, particularly, the booster COVID-19 shots.
Lithuania has been grappling with an upswing of new coronavirus cases over the last couple of weeks, with the daily virus toll climbing over 2 000 cases all this week. Furthermore, Lithuania was No1 according new COVID-19 cases per 100 thousand people in the EU and the second according COVID-19 mortality. Lithuania’s 14-day infection count per 100,000 people has risen to 852.6 this week. No single reason for the spike has been provided by the country’s public health authorities.
Now, the country‘s parliament, Seimas, is expected to fast-track procedure on the 100-euro initiative.
Approached by BNN, Lithuanians of venerable age, were largely supportive of the motivation.
«Our pensions are on a lower end, under 500 euros of most, so those extra 100 euro will be a nice addition. Of approximately 50 members in our branch, the vast majority has received both shots and are ready for the booster shot. We trust science,» Vanda Bujokienė, chairwoman of the Senamiestis branch of the national pensioner organisation «Bočiai», told BNN.
But those who haven’t been jabbed yet are «too stubborn», she says. «No amount (of money) will make them get the shot. That’s how it is,» she said.
With the pecuniary incentive rolled out, social media was buzzing this week. Many commentators just lampooned and excoriated the government: «It is like giving a candy to a little child…This not motivation – it is a pure bribe!..Money talks!..I will give you 200 euros, just leave me alone!» some of the zingers say.
It is clear that getting the legislative initiative passed on the parliament floor will not be a piece of cake.
«My stance on the draft is very sceptic. Why is it proposed by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, not by the Health Ministry? And why does such a bill appear just now?» Social Democratic MP Algirdas Sysas asks rhetorically.
Introducing the draft bill, Social Security and Labour Minister Monika Navickienė noted there are over 270,000 people in Lithuania who are aged 75 years and over.
«They belong to a high-risk group and their immunisation rates are significantly lower than those of other high-risk groups,» she said.
Of the number, nearly third, to be exact, about 80,000, still have not been vaccinated or have not had the virus.
Statistically, two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths occur among people aged 75 and over, thence the ministry’s proposal to target specifically this age group.
But Sysas remains unconvinced.
«It seems that the Health minister himself, Arūnas Dulkys, is not sure about the initiative. The minister did not respond clearly if he supports it and hinted that he would rather do what government decides… I see here more minuses than pluses,» the MP said.
He believes right time for such a pecuniary impetus has been missed.
«This should have been done when the public was getting jabbed consciously, not now, when we see the rigidness (of vaccination). And the president with his caveats not to overexert with the vaccination efforts is also part of the reason why inoculation is much slower now. We should incentivise our medics instead,» Sysas said.
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Eugenijus Gentvilas, a liberal MP, reasoned that the 100-euro proposal might be viewed as discriminatory.
«Frankly speaking, I do not know yet if I will support the bill. As much as I’d like to support positive incentives aimed at boosting inoculation against COVID-19 – they just seem much better than frightening and fining, I just cannot answer to myself if the proposal is a very positive measure,» Gentvilas said.
He admitted he favoured inoculation promotion applied last spring.
«Let’s remember: then you’d get the shot and you’d enrol automatically in the lottery…With the 100 euro, we are just getting indirectly discriminatory, which raises my concern,» the liberal MP said.
Meanwhile, the proposal has razzed opposition MPs, who claim the government «stole» their idea.
«We lodged in a very similar draft bill in August. It envisioned giving out 100 euros to anyone aged 65 and above who agrees to get the shot,» Agnė Širinskienė, a MP of the opposition Farmers and Greens Union, said on Facebook.
Fully inoculated seniors who take their booster shot, either their second or third one depending on the vaccine, by April 1 would also be eligible.
The money would be paid out in December and April. The Social Security and Labour Ministry estimates that more than 27 million euros would be needed if all eligible people were to receive the lump sum.
And there seem more initiatives to boost the vaccination effort on the way in the country.
The Lithuanian Health Ministry said on Thursday, October 7, it is preparing to award three municipalities that will have at least 90 percent of their senior residents vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 1, Health Minister Arūnas Dulkys confirmed.
Meanwhile, the Opportunity passport, also known as the COVID-19 certificate, has been under criticism of both opposition and some ruling MPs. Responding, Lithuanian government was about to stop issuing the document to those who, until now, were just taking COVID-19 tests to obtain it, but refraining from taking the jabs.
Lithuania reinstated the facemask requirement in the country from October 1 as the proven measure to stem the virus spread and advised to go back to working remotely for now.
Lithuania registered 2,182 new coronavirus infections and 18 deaths from COVID-19 over Wednesday, October 6, the country’s statistics office said on Thursday morning.
Fourteen of the fatalities were either not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated.
Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN