Serbia Leads Region in Expecting COVID-19 Vaccines Within Days
Serbia has announced that it expects the first COVID-19 vaccines to arrive this week, while Turkey and other countries in the Balkans expect their first doses somewhat later – either by the end of 2020 or in the first quarter of 2021.
The first doses of the vaccine made by the Pfizer and BioNtech companies will arrive in Serbia this week, Pavle Zelic, from the Serbia’s Agency for Medicines, said on Monday.
He said the agency had approved the quality and safety of the vaccines made by the two companies, and Serbia expected to get its first doses by the end of this week. “We can be satisfied with the results of our examinations of the vaccine,” Zelic said on Monday.
The agency has approved 20,475 doses of the vaccines – but 5,000 doses are expected to arrive in the first tranche this week, according to the Health Minister, Zlatibor Loncar, in a statement from December 18.
Turkey is also expecting the first vaccines to be delivered soon through a bilateral agreement with a Chinese manufacturer.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said vaccinations will start in the last week of December or in the first days of January. “The vaccine from China will arrive in few days, and then there is a procedural a process which will last a few days,” Koca said on December 20.
Turkey purchased 50 million doses of China’s CoronaVac vaccine, but the first shipment will have 3 million doses. Minister Koca announced on December 17 that Turkey will also buy vaccines from the United Kingdom, but the date of delivery is still unknown.
Most other countries in the Balkans are relying specifically on the COVAX system, launched in April by the World Health Organisation, WHO, the European Commission and France to provide access to COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.
The EU’s drug regulator, the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency, EMA, will decide on Monday whether to authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The EMA has said that if a decision is not possible on Monday, it will meet again on December 29.
Although the EU still did not formally approve any of the vaccines, three EU member states from the Balkans – Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia – are expecting their first doses by the end of the year.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on December 18 that the first batch of the vaccine from the EU was set to arrive between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Iohannis said it will consist of 10,000 doses that will be administered first to medics and the elderly. Starting from January, doses acquired through the EU will arrive at a rate of 100,000 per week. “First will arrive a smaller symbolic batch of 10,000 doses, which will be administered immediately, during this year,” Iohannis said.
Romania will also donate some vaccines to neighbour Moldova whose authorities have not signed any contracts with companies producing the vaccine, Romanian MEP Cristian Busoi said on December 15.
Bulgaria said its first vaccines would likely arrive on December 25, 24 hours after approval by the European health authorities is expected, Chief Health Inspector Angel Kunchev told Nova TV.
Croatia also expects doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, which the EMA is expected to approve soon, to arrive soon. The director of the Croatian Institute of Public Health, Krunoslav Capak, said 9,200 doses of the vaccine will arrive as part of EU planned COVID-19 vaccination days set for December 27-29.
Croatia has ordered 5.6 million doses from all manufacturers based on agreements which the Commission concluded on behalf of the member states, including one million Pfizer vaccines.
Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said last week that, after approving Pfizer vaccine, the EMA was expected to approve the Moderna vaccine as well.
In Kosovo and Montenegro vaccines will not arrive until spring 2021, official announcements saids.
In Montenegro, the head of the Institute for Public Health, Igor Galic, on Monday said the first vaccines will arrive until April, stressing that the government has formed a special body to organise distribution and vaccination. Montenegro is relying solely on COVAX, which it signed up to on October 9. Podgorica agreed to pay 646,000 euros for 248,800 doses, enough for 20 per cent of the population.
Kosovo’s World Health Organization office has said that the vaccine will not arrive before spring 2021, at the latest at the beginning of April. According to the WHO, Kosovo does not have technical capabilities to administer the vaccine and the WHO is in the process of training medical staff.
Albanian health authorities on December 21 said that the first tranche of vaccines are expected to arrive “within the next six months”. Albania Prime Minister Edi Rama visited New York recently, saying he was looking for vaccines, but has not confirmed whether the visit was successful.
North Macedonia is expecting the first doses to arrive in early January through the COVAX platform. North Macedonia is expecting some 400,000 vaccines from COVAX, and is also negotiating with Pfizer for another 400,000 doses.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers has said that 1,230,000 doses of the vaccine, agreed through the COVAX program, should arrive in the first quarter of next year.
Of these, 800,000 doses are planned for the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entity and 400,000 for the Republika Srpska entity and 30,000 for the Brcko District.
At the same time, Republika Srpska, RS, is also negotiating with Russia for vaccines. The head of the RS Representation in Moscow, Dusko Perovic, said in early December that the first delivery of Russian “Sputnik V” vaccines against the coronavirus could be expected next February.