BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Thousands of vaccine seekers from countries neighboring Serbia flocked to Belgrade on Saturday after Serbian authorities offered foreigners free coronavirus injections if they showed up over the weekend.
Long lines of Bosnians, Montenegrins and North Macedonians – often entire families – formed outside the main vaccination center in the Serbian capital as police kept watch.
“We don’t have vaccines. I came here to get vaccinated, ”said Zivko Trajkovski, from North Macedonia. “We are very grateful because we can vaccinate faster than in Macedonia.”
Zoran Dedic, from Bosnia, noted that his country and Serbia were part of a joint federation before Yugoslavia disintegrated in a war in the 1990s. “It doesn’t make any difference, neither in Bosnia nor in Serbia. . It doesn’t matter, ”he said.
Most of Serbia’s Balkan neighbors are grappling with shortages and have barely embarked on mass vaccination campaigns, while Serbia boasts an adequate supply and one of the lowest per capita vaccination rates. highest in Europe.
The Serbian government donated vaccine doses to North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia.
Critics of Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic argue that he is trying to spread his influence in the Balkans and polish the ultranationalist image he acquired during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.
Others say the AstraZeneca vaccines Serbia is giving foreigners are approaching their expiration date and should be used as soon as possible, a claim that could not be verified.
Bosnian news portal Klix described huge lines of cars forming at border crossings with Serbia on Saturday morning.
Klix reported that Bosnian businessmen were to be beaten on Saturday after the Serbian Chamber of Commerce offered 10,000 blows to their colleagues in the region.
Serbia has one of the highest inoculation rates in Europe, mainly thanks to large government purchases of the Sinopharm vaccine in China and the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The country also uses vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Although more than 2 million people in the country of 7 million have so far received at least one injection, Serbia has seen a noticeable drop in the number of registered residents. Officials and doctors link the drop in interest with an increasingly vocal anti-vaccine movement.