Serbia has vaccinated thousands of citizens from neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Croatia against COVID-19 during the weekend.
On Saturday, 9,600 vaccinations were administered to foreigners from the region in the capital Belgrade, Nikola Nikodijevic, the president of Belgrade city council, told Serbian cable TV Vesti.
Citizens from neighbouring countries were also injected in the cities of Novi Sad and Nis, according to media reports. Another 8,500 vaccinations were planned for Sunday.
Bosnian media reported that long traffic jams formed at the border crossings between Bosnia and Serbia on Saturday morning.
Many citizens of Bosnia and North Macedonia expressed their gratitude to Serbia on social media. In the two smaller Balkan countries, vaccinations to protect against the coronavirus have barely got off the ground.
The Serbian government presented the vaccination campaign as a planned measure for businessmen from the entire region to boost regional trade relations. The Serbian Chamber of Commerce has concluded agreements with partner organisations for this purpose.
The United Against Covid Association, an initiative formed by physicians in Serbia, criticised the government’s decision to host vaccinations of foreigners.
“The priority should be to organise a campaign for the vaccination of its own population (which does not exist!) and to systematically fight against the mindless anti-vaccination stances in government-controlled media (which, also does not exist!)”, it said in a statement, as reported by Serbian media.
The association questioned why the vaccines were not instead donated to neighbouring countries, which would lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 in the country.
Local media has reported vaccine hesitancy in Serbia. President Aleksandar Vucic earlier expressed concern as the government had procured enough vaccines for its population, but could not find enough people to take a vaccine shot.
Early in March in a televised address he begged citizens to sign up for the vaccine.
“As a God, I beg you, sign up for the vaccine. We have [vaccines] and we will have vaccines; I’m begging you as God, take it,” Vucic said.
The country, with a population of almost seven million, is using Russian and Chinese vaccines in addition to Western ones.
As of March 26, Serbia had administered 33.5 doses of vaccine per 100 people, according to Our World in Data. Its seven-day rolling average of new daily infections was 728 per 100,000 people on March 27.
Al Jazeera’s Jelena Milutinovic reporting from Belgrade said that about 920,000 Serbian citizens have been vaccinated so far, but that the country was a long way from reaching collective immunity.
“Authorities are calling on Serbian residents to respond to the call [to get vaccinated],” Milutinovic said.
Despite the country’s successful procurement of vaccines, Milutinovic said the situation in Serbia is still “unstable” with approximately 7,000 people currently hospitalised.