The European Commission last month announced that 651,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech will be delivered to Serbia, Bosnia, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, and Kosovo in weekly batches between May and August. The vaccines are funded from a 70 million euro package adopted by the European Commission in December.
Most of the Balkan countries have faced difficulties in obtaining vaccines, except Serbia, which has launched a successful vaccination campaign, mainly due to receiving millions of doses of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine and the Russian Sputnik V, which are still not approved by the European pharmaceutical regulator.
Following the example of Serbia, other countries in the Western Balkans began to turn to China and Russia for vaccines, as EU countries experienced delays in the supply of vaccines.
The export of vaccines from China and Russia to Serbia and other countries was accompanied by a demonstration of “soft power”: politicians spoke of mutual friendship and criticized the European Union for not coming to the aid of the Balkans at the most difficult moment.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who is in the region for a three-day visit to mark the official launch of the vaccine supply, rejected the criticism.
Speaking in Bosnia on Tuesday, Varhelyi promised that the bloc would “not let down” the western Balkan countries in the fight against the virus.
“The delivery of the vaccines confirms that we remain committed to supporting the region, as we have done since the beginning of the pandemic. Together we are stronger!” he said.
The European Commissioner’s trip began in Serbia on Monday. He will also visit Montenegro, Northern Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo.
Several Balkan countries, most notably Bosnia, have relied heavily on the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, which distributes the vaccine to less developed countries. However, due to a lack of doses, deliveries under COVAX are delayed, and some Balkan countries are trying to purchase COVID-19 vaccines directly from manufacturers.
The European Union is one of the main sponsors of COVAX and has contributed almost 2.5 billion euros to the program. “We care about this region. Its future is in the European Union. And that is why we are trying to support it as much as possible in the fight against the pandemic,” Ana Pisonero, the EU’s official representative for Neighborhood and Enlargement Policy, said in Brussels on Tuesday.