By Nina Chatzistergiou,
Serbia, a Balkan country of approximately 7 million people, appears to have been highly praised regarding its’ vaccination drive, which ranks among the top five of the world. This is due to the fact that Serbia managed to secure early supplies of AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Sputnik V and Sinopharm. Mass immunization started in Serbia as early as mid-January and by now 2.35 million have gotten vaccinated once and close to a million have been revaccinated. So with 20 to 25 thousand AstraZeneca doses about to expire at the end of March, the government decided that getting rid of them at a time of global shortage would be a massive waste.
Following this, the Serbian government proceeded in inviting the citizens of neighboring countries to come and get vaccinated in Belgrade.
Taking into consideration this invitation and the fact that many of them lack confidence in their own governments -in terms of the ability to procure enough COVID-19 vaccines as there are severe shortages on vaccines- people all over the Balkan region started considering going to get their shots in Serbia where the process appeared to be remarkably simple and free.
Starting March 2021, thousands of people from North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Kosovo even Croatia lined up at the Serbian borders to receive jabs for free. There were even Germans, Dutch, Austrians and Slovaks among them. Over the past weeks people, flocked to Serbia by the thousands to get vaccinated, after Belgrade dispensed free shots in show of solidarity and goodwill in a time of a global crisis. As stated by Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ana Brnabić: “For Serbia, there is no politics in vaccinations, just solidarity”. She openly declared that Serbia would not destroy 25 thousand shots, giving people in the region the choice to get a shot instead. In gratitude to Serbia the Prime Minister of North Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, announced that Serbian citizens would not be subjected to driving tolls in their country during the summer.
The process which followed the announcement of the invitation, led some people to book in advance their appointments with the Serbian National Health Institute, while others decided to firstly get to Serbia before booking an appointment. When booking an appointment there were three types of applicants that were offered vaccines: citizens of Serbia, foreigners with residence rights in Serbia and foreigners without residence rights.
Reportedly due to the fact that even the European Union struggles with its’ own problem on vaccine shortages, politicians and media portals all over the Balkan region and ever further, have claimed that the vaccination drive that Serbia has managed to achieve, has possibly been the best PR victory for Aleksandar Vučić and a massive show of Serbias’ soft power.
- Balkan Insight, Balkan Neighbours Head to Serbia for ‘Sunny Weekend and Vaccination. Available here.
- Euronews, Serbia invites its neighbours over for a COVID vaccine. Available here.
- Aljazeera, Serbia vaccinates thousands of foreigners against COVID-19. Available here.
- Euractiv, Foreign vaccine-seekers flock to Serbia for COVID-19 shots. Available here.