Serbia has bought enough vaccines for its people, but as conspiracy theories worsen, many are reluctant to take the vaccines

With the third highest vaccination rate in Europe, Serbia is considered a success story in the Balkans

Under Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia has purchased enough vaccines to immunize its population of seven million, but supply exceeds demand due to reluctance to vaccinate

Vucic announced in early March that Serbia had nearly 15 million vaccines, but on March 25, Serbian authorities told reporters that only 3 million people had been vaccinated

Last weekend thousands of foreigners from the region crossed borders to get free shots in Serbia In three days, more than 22,000 foreigners were vaccinated

As Prime Minister Ana Brnabic later stated, between 20,000 and 25,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in supplies were due to expire in early April

But some have criticized the development, including the United Against Covid group, an initiative formed by doctors in Serbia

In a statement, the association wrote: “The priority should be to organize a vaccination campaign of its own population – which does not exist”

The group also called on the government to tackle vaccine reluctance, saying it should “systematically fight senseless anti-vaccination positions in government-controlled media”

Thousands of vaccine seekers from states neighboring Serbia have flocked to Belgrade after Serbian authorities offered free coronavirus injections to foreigners if they showed up over the weekend [Darko Vojinovic / AP] Skepticism about the vaccines being offered in Serbia was so high that in early March Vucic begged people to sign up for vaccinations through a TV address

“I beg you, get yourself vaccinated We have [vaccines] and we will have vaccines,” Vucic said, noting that utilization rates were as low as 95 percent in some areas. p>

Serbian epidemiologist Zoran Radovanovic told Al Jazeera that while Serbia’s vaccine purchase has bolstered leadership ratings, there has been less concern about encouraging people to accept vaccines

“We have a populist government that thinks it is more important not to lose a voice [than to ensure the health of its people],” Radovanovic said

“This is why mixed messages are being broadcast by the pro-regime media, because access is allowed for both vaxxers and anti-vaxxers”

Serbs have the highest rate of vaccine mistrust and most so-called anti-vax movements in the region, some analysts say

In February, United Against Covid filed a criminal complaint against Serbian pulmonologist Branimir Nestorovic for violating the code of medical ethics

As a member of the Serbian coronavirus crisis group, he had been spreading lies about the infection “continuously and persistently” to the public via the media, the association said

He called the coronavirus “stupid” – which means not dangerous, and claimed that people under 40 could not be infected

In May 2020 with a newspaper, he called on Serbs, except the elderly, to take to the streets to be infected, saying the outbreak will end on June 15

Empty chairs are seen in a temporary coronavirus vaccination center in the gym of the medical school in Novi Pazar, Serbia [Zorana Jevtic / Reuters] According to a report released in December by the Advisory Group on Balkan policy in Europe, one-third of the European population believes in COVID conspiracy theories

In the Western Balkans, more than 75% of citizens believe in one or more of the six false theories, which often spread on the Internet in the form of false information accompanied by dramatic warnings about the dangers of vaccination

“They find particularly fertile ground in our environment, where general mistrust and xenophobia are rife,” Radovanovic said

“It’s easy to manipulate a nation that has been deceived for three decades and no longer trusts anyone Doubt is the natural state of affairs [here] Sadly, mistrust of government is growing is extended to all authorities, including doctors, who previously traditionally enjoyed general respect “

Milan-based European Institute of Oncology molecular biologist Marija Mihailovic said campaigns should be launched to encourage adoption

“Everyone should get a call, not just from one political party, but from all political parties,” Mihailovic said

“The most sensitive generation is the one born before the technological boom it is unrealistic to expect these people to register themselves for vaccines, “she said, adding that providing vaccines at home could also increase rates

Medical workers arrive to vaccinate residents with Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in the village of Leskovik near the town of Nis, Serbia [Marko Djurica / Reuters] Mihailovic added that some people do not understand the intricacies vaccine approvals

“The EMA (European Medicines Agency), which issues EU vaccine permits, comments on the safety and efficacy of the vaccine only when the manufacturer makes a request for the EU market”, said Mihailovic

“Therefore, the current lack of EU permits for some vaccines has nothing to do with their efficacy or safety, but simply reflects the fact that these vaccines have not been introduced to the market. of the EU These are political and economic issues rather than medical ones, and I think this is something we haven’t talked about at all “

The World Health Organization warned at the end of March that Serbia had the fifth highest number of cases in Europe per 100,000 population

Radovanovic said hospitals are full and health workers are exhausted, adding that it is only now that the millionth citizen has received the two doses of the vaccine

With only 15% of the total population fully vaccinated, this was “not enough to seriously affect the frequency of infection”

Vaccination of 70% of the population is necessary to achieve collective immunity, according to many experts

Radovanovic said it was also important to note that in addition to the reluctance, light lockdown measures – “among the weakest in Europe” – have also contributed to the increase in the number of cases

“Until [recently, cafes and restaurants] were operating at full capacity and ski resorts operated undisturbed all the time”

Serbian President heads to Sarajevo to deliver AstraZeneca vaccines as planned COVAX shipments are delayed

Large shipment of Chinese vaccine helped Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić improve his political fortunes

Residents of neighboring Bosnia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia travel to Belgrade for COVID-19 shot


Global news – FI – In Serbia, supply of COVID vaccines outweighs demand in a climate of mistrust