BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Thousands of vaccine applicants from neighboring Serbian countries 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 in front of the main vaccination center in the Serbian capital while police kept watch.
“We don’t have vaccines. I came here to get vaccinated, ”said Zivko Trajkovski, who is from North Macedonia. “We are very grateful that we can get vaccinated faster than in Macedonia.”
Zoran Dedic from Bosnia pointed out that his country and Serbia were part of a joint federation before Yugoslavia disintegrated in a war during the 1990s. “It makes no difference, Bosnia or Serbia. It doesn’t matter, ”he said.
Most of Serbia’s Balkan neighbors have been battling shortages and have just started mass vaccination campaigns, while Serbia boasts abundant supplies and one of the highest per capita vaccination rates in Europe.
The Serbian government has donated doses of vaccines to North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia.
Critics of populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic argue that he is trying to extend his influence in the Balkans and polish the ultra-nationalist image he acquired during the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia.
Others say the AstraZeneca vaccine injections Serbia is giving foreigners are nearing their expiration date and should be used as soon as possible, a claim that could not be verified.
Bosnia’s Klix news portal described the huge lines of cars forming at the border crossings with Serbia on Saturday morning.
Klix reported that Bosnian businessmen were scheduled to take hits on Saturday after the Serbian Chamber of Commerce offered 10,000 shots 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 from China and the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. The country is also using the vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca. .
Although more than 2 million people in the country of 7 million have received at least one opportunity so far, Serbia has seen a notable decline in the number of residents signing up. Officials and doctors link the abandonment in the interest of an increasingly vocal anti-vaccine movement.