On the last weekend of March, Ena Jazic Surkovic left for Serbia from Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia and Herzegovina), with one goal: to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
She was just one of tens of thousands who traveled to Serbia, and people from neighboring Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania also made the trip to the small Western Balkan country on the outskirts of the EU.
Within days they were vaccinated against COVID-19, thanks to Serbia and the hits the country had managed to buy, a strange outlier at a time when countries are desperately trying to get vaccines for their populations.
“I chose life, this vaccine means life to me,” Surkovic told Euronews.
“I am grateful to the citizens of Serbia, whose money bought the vaccine, for allowing their neighbors to get vaccinated, neighbors who do not have enough injections at the moment.”
Serbia takes the lead in the global vaccination race
As Surkovic awaits his second dose of the vaccine, which he will also receive in Serbia, the vaccination process continues to fascinate many larger and more powerful states, such as the EU.
Serbia, with a population of around 7 million, has so far purchased more than 3.5 million vaccines from four different manufacturers, including China and Russia. He has performed just under 2.5 million immunizations, and about 1 million people have received both doses.
It has already donated vaccines to neighboring countries in the Western Balkans, but is now inviting neighboring citizens to cross its border to receive vaccines.
A total of 22,610 foreigners received their vaccination in Serbian cities at the end of March, at the invitation of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, or registered themselves through the Serbian government’s e-government portal. There were those who showed up without an appointment.
Questions have been raised as to why Serbia decided to do this.
With countries like Russia and China involved in so-called vaccine diplomacy, could this also be Serbia’s game?
“There is no policy on vaccination,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić told Euronews.
“The most beautiful image of solidarity was sent from Serbia by vaccinating citizens of other states. There was no politics in the invitation to come, nor was there politics in them coming to our country. They trusted us and I want to thank them.” “she added.
There have also been suggestions that the vaccines were going to expire, something Brnabic does not deny.
With some 20,000-25,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine scheduled to pass its best date yet, Brnabic said Serbia does not want to “throw away the vaccines” at a time of global shortages.
Whatever Serbia’s reasoning, people like Surkovic are grateful.
She told Euronews that she applied as soon as she heard Vucic’s announcement and headed out with her husband and cousin.
“We return to Sarajevo psychologically relieved because we know that even if we get infected it will not be so bad, with serious complications,” he said.
When asked about the possibility that the vaccine they gave him was about to expire, he says with a smile that he would take it even if it had expired on the day of vaccination because he knows it is effective.
“This is a mutual benefit for Serbia and for the people of the region. It would be very expensive to destroy the vaccines and, on the other hand, it means life for us. Solidarity at times like this is important. I am grateful to the citizens of Serbia because the vaccine was bought with their money. As for who has decided if the region can be vaccinated, that is politics, “he said.
Dobrila Mocevic, also from Bosnia and Herzegovina, is also grateful. She says that she feels calmer after vaccination, but that it remains to wear the mask, keep physical distance, disinfect her hands.
How Serbian Deployment Worked For Neighbors
The Director of the Office of IT and Electronic Government of the Government of Serbia, Mihajlo Jovanovic, told Euronews that in just one day 11,030 foreigners were vaccinated at the checkpoints in Belgrade, Niš and Novi Sad.
“We sent 20,000 vaccination calls to foreigners with scheduled appointments, but we accepted about 2,600 more people who came without an appointment. We did not want to turn anyone away. Most of them were citizens of North Macedonia,” Jovanovic said.
In addition to vaccinating foreigners, 28,000 Serbian citizens were vaccinated in three days. All vaccines that received the “green light” from the Serbian Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices (Pfizer / BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V of Russia and Sinofarm of China) were available to them.
Jovanovic says that foreigners can still register through the e-government vaccination portal in Serbia, but there will be no vaccination until they receive the invitation.
In addition to ordinary citizens, the business community has been vaccinated in Serbia. Marko Mandic, director of the CCIS Center for the Western Balkan Six Chambers Investment Forum, told Euronews that around 8,500 entrepreneurs in the region have been vaccinated through that organization.
He explained that the center consists of chambers of commerce from North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo.
“Through these partner chambers, we organized the application process. The Kosovo Chamber of Commerce, which is our partner, has decided not to participate in this activity. With the other partners, we organized the application and there were just over 8,500 people interested. “. Mandic said.
Requests have kept coming in, he says, and stakeholders are waiting for the Serbian government to take the next step.
“We don’t know yet if this action will be allowed to be repeated. But certainly all of our partners have kept track of who approached them and there is still a lot of interest.”
He says the CCIS has been advocating for the merger of all the Western Balkans into a single economic market for years, with four freedoms: freedom of movement, goods, capital and services.
He also explains that all foreigners, like Serbian citizens, have received a bilingual confirmation of the first dose of the vaccine received (in Serbian and English), which also has a QR code. Using that code, he said, it is possible to verify when they were vaccinated and what jab they received.
In gratitude to Serbia, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev announced the possibility of Serbian citizens not paying tolls in their country during the summer.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism