With vaccines from five different manufacturers and sufficient doses for its nearly 7 million inhabitants, Serbia has stood out with a vaccination campaign against Covid-19 on a continent where several countries are struggling to provide vaccines.
And with a much smaller economy – the GDP per capita of the Balkan country is 21.2% of the value of the European Union and 17.5% of the number of the UK, the leader in the region.
The British occupy the first position in terms of the amount of doses applied to 100 inhabitants in Europe, with a rate of 59, according to data from Our World in Data until Wednesday (14). But Serbia ranks among the top six on the continent, with an index of 42.3.
The Serbian government claims to have already obtained 15 million doses – of which it has already applied nearly 2.7 million.
And while the Europeans wage a battle to ensure there are enough vaccines – the amount of doses distributed to EU member countries equals less than a quarter of the bloc’s population – the Serbs have a menu of choice from five manufacturers, from different countries.
It is up to the person who will receive the vaccine to choose, on a form available on the government site, whether he prefers that of Pfizer / BioNtech, Sputnik V, that of Moderna, that of Sinopharm or AstraZeneca.
The abundance comes from a decision by President Aleksandar Vucic not to bet on a single supplier. He bought vaccines from Europe, Russia and China and even signed deals to produce the last two vaccines in the country.
The strain has helped deal with popular skepticism about vaccines. The country is fertile ground for conspiracy theories – 41.5% of Serbs believe in some of the unfounded stories linked to Covid-19, according to a study from October last year by Biepag (Balkan Advisory Group in Europe ). In English).
Among them, the virus was developed in a Chinese lab and Bill Gates uses the disease to force a vaccine with a chip capable of tracking people.
The survey also measured acceptance of vaccines before doses were available. In Serbia, around 50% of those polled said they would definitely or probably agree not to be vaccinated.
According to experts, the variety available helps in this regard. “Whether people prefer the eastern powers, like China or Russia, or the western powers, like the EU and the United States, it influences their choice of vaccine,” Milan Krstic, associate professor at British newspaper, told British newspaper. the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade. The Guardian.
Despite this, the country is seeing more doses available than records to receive them, and there are areas with high resistance, such as in Novi Pazar, a predominantly Muslim town in a rural area 267 km from the capital. The vaccination rate is well below the national average, and only 8 doses had been administered per 100 inhabitants by the end of March, according to the Guardian.
Sefadil Spahic, head of the regional public health center, told Reuters news agency that online forums and rumors questioning the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine have undermined the city’s vaccination campaign. He reported that there are even health workers who say negative things about the injections.
In addition, Imam Muhamed Demirovic said that some Islamic scholars were reluctant to promote vaccines. “Based on scientific information and the principles of Sharia [lei islâmica], we are not in a position to determine or tell people whether vaccination is compulsory or prohibited, ”he told Reuters.
The reluctance led the Serbian president to ask the population to be vaccinated. “I beg you, call to get vaccinated,” Vucic said during a speech in March. “We have [as injeções] and we will have many more. I beg you like god, take it.
As the Serbs hesitate, thousands of foreigners have flocked to the country for vaccination. As there are no obstacles for foreigners to get vaccinated and the government registration form itself considers non-Serbs and non-residents, residents of neighboring countries and elsewhere in Europe went there to receive the injections.
As soon as he learned that Serbia was vaccinating foreigners for free, Elma left neighboring Bosnia with her mother and brother. Upon arrival, he encountered hundreds of compatriots, as well as people from Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia, all behind the gunfire.
“I came here because the vaccines will not reach Bosnia,” she said, who declined to give her last name, told Reuters. “Eventually they will arrive, but it will be too late.” According to the news agency, Serbia has been donating vaccines to Bosnia, Montenegro and North Macedonia since January.
The German psychiatrist who lives in Switzerland Daniel Bindernagel has also benefited from the Serbian vaccination. He traveled after registering on the government website to receive the vaccine. “I tried it in Switzerland and Germany. I am a doctor and I did not understand it.
Elma and Daniel are two out of the thousands. Arab news site Al Jazeera reported that over the past weekend alone 22,000 foreigners were vaccinated in Serbia. Applying so many doses was a pragmatic decision, as there were between 20,000 and 25,000 AstraZeneca injections that would expire in early April, according to Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.
The vaccine developed by the University of Oxford has been strongly rejected by Serbs – and its reputation in Europe is also facing obstacles.
While vaccinating its population, Serbia faces an increase in coronavirus cases and deaths. In two months, the country has gone from a moving average of infections of 1,670 to around 4,000. Deaths followed the same trend, dropping from 14 in early February to around 40 in early April.
Ivan Kostic, surgeon from the town of Cacak (141 km from Belgrade), told British magazine The Economist that many Serbs do not adhere to precautionary measures, such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds, especially those who have already received the first dose.
Unlike other European countries, there have been no long lockdowns adopted in Serbia. And although today he is reaping praise for an advanced vaccination campaign, last year the president faced popular pressure for his handling of the pandemic.
The authorities imposed strict blocking measures in the early stages of the epidemic, but then lifted all restrictions in the run-up to parliamentary elections.
After the elections, the president re-established three days of total containment in Belgrade, which prompted the popular uprising in July. Many have accused the government of cheating official data and minimizing the risk of running for office.