Vienna / Brussels — The European Union will ship more than 500,000 COVID-19 shots to the West Balkans by August, aiming to help poor neighbors and challenge the influence of China and Russia for the first time in the region. Use the vaccine sharing mechanism that has been used.
The EU move will take place after China and Russia have distributed millions of vaccines in the region, which is a candidate for EU accession, and months after the EU vaccine sharing mechanism has been set up.
“Despite the current global shortage, the EU will provide West Balkans with a life-saving vaccine,” regional EU Commissioner Olivér Váheli said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The block will be vaccinated with 651,000 Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccines in Bosnia, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia from early May.
“This initiative shows that we will not leave the area behind,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.
A successor to the empire that once extended deep into the Balkans, his country maintains close ties with the countries of the region and coordinates the shipment of EU-procured vaccines.
The European Commission outlined plans for a vaccine sharing mechanism in January, but EU countries struggled to share them with their poor neighbors amid supply delays hindering their vaccine deployment. ..
Serbia, which is predominantly vaccinated in China and Russia in the region, is already one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe and easily shared some of its vaccinations with its neighbors.
Despite this support, the other five Balkan countries expected to receive EU administration are struggling to inoculate people. In Bosnia, vaccine shortages have led to street protests.
Vaccines shared by the EU will be purchased with EU funding and provided to the Balkan countries.
Sending vaccines abroad remains a controversial topic at a stage where global production of jabs is still insufficient to meet demand.
“It has nothing to do with the provision of vaccines in Austria and other (EU) member states,” said Schallenberg, who is facing growing public dissatisfaction with the slow pace of vaccination. Stated.
“These doses are not from national quotas. These are the doses of vaccine explicitly reserved by the EU from the beginning for the purpose of giving to partners.”
EU officials said some of the 600 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that the EU secured this year were set aside for overseas shipments.
According to Schallenberg, doses will be distributed according to which country needs the most. Bosnia gained the largest share with 214,000 doses, followed by Albania with 145,000 and North Macedonia with 119,000. Serbia is the last at 36,000.
Francois Murphy and Francesco Guaracio