EU delivers vaccines to Balkans after China and Russia
BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – The European Union on Tuesday began delivering EU-funded coronavirus vaccines to the Balkans, a region that wants to join the 27-nation bloc but where China and Russia have already made political gains by providing the necessary products. blows.
Last month, the European Commission announced that 651,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech would be delivered to Serbia, Bosnia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo in weekly installments from May to August . The vaccines are funded from a € 70 million ($ 85 million) package adopted by the Commission in December.
Most countries in the Balkans have struggled to get hold of coronavirus vaccines except for Serbia, which launched a successful vaccination campaign mainly thanks to millions of doses of China Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines. from Russia, which have so far not been approved by the EU pharmaceutical administrator.
Following in Serbia’s footsteps, other Western Balkan countries turned to China and Russia for injections as EU countries faced their own vaccination delays.
Vaccine exports from China and Russia to Serbia and elsewhere are accompanied by messages of soft power, with politicians praising mutual friendship and criticizing the EU for not coming to the rescue when it was most necessary.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi, who traveled to the Western Balkans to officially deliver the vaccines, dismissed the criticism. In Bosnia on Tuesday, Varhelyi pledged that the bloc “will not let down” the countries of the Western Balkans in their fight against the virus.
“The vaccine delivery confirms our continued commitment to provide support, as we have been doing since the start of the pandemic. Stronger together! “, He said during the second stop of his three-day tour of the region.
His trip started in Serbia on Monday and includes stops in Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.
During a brief stay in Montenegro, Varhelyi said the EU was looking for ways to help the small country negotiate a billion dollar road loan from China that threatened to stifle its economy. While he said the EU is not “in the business of repaying loans taken out by other players,” Varhely said refinancing or other financial models could be a solution.
Montenegro will receive 42,000 Pfizer vaccines from the EU, following a delivery from China of 200,000 Sinopharm injections that allowed health authorities to launch their mass vaccination program on Tuesday.
Several Balkan countries, notably Bosnia, have relied heavily on the World Health Organization’s COVAX vaccination program, which distributes vaccines to less developed countries. But COVAX shipments have been significantly delayed due to vaccine shortages, and some Balkan countries are struggling to purchase COVID-19 vaccines directly from manufacturers.
EU-funded vaccines for the Balkans come on top of those provided by COVAX, where the EU is a major contributor with nearly € 2.5 billion.
“We care about this region. Their future lies in the European Union. And that is why we are working to support them as best we can to face the pandemic, ”EU spokesperson Ana Pisonero said in Brussels on Tuesday.
PA writers Raf Casert in Brussels and Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo contributed.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage further at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
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