Foreigners flock to Serbia to get coronavirus vaccine shots

The country has one of the highest inoculation rates in Europe,but the number of residents signing up is declining due to anti-vaccine movements

Photo: AP People wait in line to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at Belgrade Fair makeshift vaccination center in Belgrade, Saturday, March 27, 2021.

Thousands of vaccine-seekers from countries neighbouring Serbia flocked to Belgrade on Saturday after Serbian authorities promised foreigners free coronavirus jabs if they showed up over the weekend. As a result, long lines of Bosnians, Montenegrins and North Macedonians - often entire families - formed in front of the main vaccination center in the Serbian capital as police kept watch.

“We don’t have vaccines. I came here to get vaccinated,” Zivko Trajkovski, who is from North Macedonia, told AP. “We are very grateful because we can vaccinate quicker than in Macedonia.”

Most of Serbia’s Balkan neighbours have been struggling with shortages and have barely started mass vaccination drives, while Serbia boasts of having ample supplies and one of Europe’s highest per capita vaccination rates. The Serbian government has even donated vaccine doses to North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia.

This is mainly thanks to the government’s large purchases of the Sinopharm vaccine from China and the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The country also is using the vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca.

Critics of populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic contend he is trying to spread his influence in the Balkans and to polish the ultranationalist image he acquired during Yugoslavia’s bloody breakup. Others say that the AstraZeneca vaccine shots Serbia is giving foreigners are nearing their expiration date and need to be used as soon as possible, a claim that could not be verified.

Although over 2 million people in the country of 7 million have so far received at least one shot, Serbia has seen a notable decline in the number of residents signing up. Officials and doctors link the drop-off in interest to an increasingly vocal anti-vaccine movement.

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