Thousands of vaccine-seekers from countries neighboring Serbia flocked to Belgrade on Saturday after Serbian authorities offered free coronavirus jabs for foreigners if they show 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, with police keeping watch.
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Unlike Serbia which boasts of having an ample supply of vaccines, most of its Balkan neighbors have been struggling with shortages and have barely started any mass inoculation.
Serbia has already donated smaller quantities of vaccines to North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Critics of Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic say that, with the move, he is trying to spread his influence over the region and polish the ultranationalist image he had during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Others say that the AstraZeneca shots that are being administered to foreigners are nearing their expiration date and need to be used as soon as possible, a claim that could not be officially verified.
The Bosnian Klix news portal described huge lines of cars forming on Saturday morning at the border crossings with Serbia.
The report said that Bosnian businessmen were also scheduled to receive jabs Saturday after Serbias 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 purchases of Chinese Sinopharm and Russian Sputnik V vaccines. Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots have also been administered.
Although over 2 million people in the country of 7 million have so far received at least one shot, there is a notable decline in the interest for the inoculation, which officials and doctors link to an increasingly vocal anti-vaccine movement in the Balkan country.