BUCHAREST (Reuters) – After getting her COVID vaccine shot early Friday morning, Mioara Neacsu went straight to a busy barbecue stand in Bucharest’s Obor market to claim her free portion of mici – a traditional Romanian street snack.
The market is famous for its mici – small, sausage-shaped patties of spiced ground meat eaten piping hot from the grill with bread and mustard.
For three days starting on Friday, the grill’s owner is offering free mici to anyone who gets their COVID shot at a mobile vaccination unit installed in the market.
“Mici really have become attached to Obor market lately, you hear mici, you hear Obor,” said the food outlet’s manager Adrian Rebenciuc. “For us that’s a very good thing. We are even happier that people are also coming to get vaccinated here.”
Neacsu, a 60-year-old pensioner who had just received the vaccine, remembers eating mici at the Obor market as a child.
“It has been a while since I ate mici, I am actually curious to taste these, I have heard they are well praised,” she said.
“But to be honest, I didn’t come for them, I came specifically for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and … the possibility of getting it without a long appointment.”
With vaccines far outstripping demand, European Union state Romania has opened appointment-free vaccination centres in markets, airports and concert halls, and is sending doctors door-to-door in villages where accessibility remains a concern.
Romania has missed a goal to vaccinate 5 million people by June, with just over a fifth of the population – 4.47 million people – inoculated. Hesitancy is spreading amid entrenched distrust in state institutions, misinformation campaigns and weak vaccine education.
“After everything that happened, all the hospitals and all the people who died, I would have expected more people would be interested in getting the vaccine. But … people are complex,” Neacsu said.
On Friday the Obor mobile vaccination centre had attracted a queue, but not everyone was convinced.
“I didn’t think I would see people getting vaccinated for three mici, we have become a laughing stock. This is why this country is the way it is,” said Mirela Nuta, a 53-year-old market vendor. “Given all I have read I have decided not to get vaccinated at the moment,” she said.
Meanwhile the barbecue stand, which has a small terrace with seating, was teeming with people, sending out plumes of fragrant smoke into the market where sellers hawk anything from fruits, vegetables, to meat and fish, as well as flats of flowering plants, cheap clothes and homeopathic cures.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)