Trust in Russian, Chinese Vaccines – While the majority of countries in Central and Southeast Europe have brokered deals to obtain Western-manufactured COVID-19 vaccines, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia are keeping their options open and also obtaining Chinese and Russian vaccines – despite concerns about their reliability.
Some health experts have warned that the effectiveness of these vaccines is still not fully researched, and note that their delivery dates are also still uncertain.
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“Unfortunately, Turkey could not purchase a vaccine in which all three phases of research had been completed. Furthermore, there are no plans to bring [Western] Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines [to Turkey],” Emrah Altindis, a Turkish professor of Biology at Boston College, wrote on Twitter.
Turkey said earlier that it would purchase 50 million doses of China’s CoronaVac vaccine, which is still in third of phase of research. After various delays, only 3 million doses arrived on December 31. So far, Turkey has vaccinated 1.2 million of its more than 82 million citizens.
Ankara is also negotiating with US pharmaceutical firm Pfizer-BionTech – but the arrival date of vaccines from it, and a further shipment of CoronaVac made by China’s Sinovac is still unknown.
Altindis said people should be vaccinated with CoronaVac only if they do not have another option.
Serbia is using the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine and a vaccine from another Chinese company, Sinopharm, in addition to the US Pfizer-BionTech vaccines.
Some 2,400 doses of the Russian vaccine reached Serbia on December 30, according to local media. The speaker of parliament, Ivica Dacic, and the Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin, both took the vaccine in front of journalists on January 6.
On January 19, President Aleksandar Vucic announced the imminenent “mass immunization” of the population of Serbia. “I want to inform you that today or tomorrow we should get 250,000 Sputnik V Russian vaccines,” Vucic said.
But mass immunization now mostly depends on the rapid rolling-out of the Sinopharm vaccine from China after Serbia received a million doses of it on January 16.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is still trying to procure vaccines through the WHO-led COVAX and EU programmes.
However, it has not specified when vaccines from either programme will reach the country and in what quantities, promptiong criticism that the authorities have not done enough to procure vaccines.
Zoran Tegeltija, chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Bosnian state government, said on Thursday after a meeting with the prime ministers of the two entities on Thursday that Bosnia would now begin direct negotiations on vaccines with the manufacturers rather than wait for struggling international programmes to deliver.
“There is obviously a problem in the mechanisms of COVAX and the EU, [so] we decided to start the process of direct procurement of vaccines with manufacturers. We will start this process with Pfizer and the Russian manufacturer, as well as with the vaccine manufacturer from China,” Tegeltija said.
Milorad Dodik, the Serbian member of the three-member state presidency, on Wednesday said he expected 10,000 shots of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine to reach the Serb-led entity of Bosnia, Republika Srpska, RS, next week.
Dodik told Radio RS that he would hold discussions with Serbian officials in Belgrade on January 26 with a view to some of the shots Serbia already received from China being forwarded to the RS.
Dusko Perovic, head of the RS Representation in Moscow, told Bosnian media that a second contingent of 100,000 shots of the Russian vaccines should reach the RS in the second half of February, and more will come in March.
Hungary is also interested in the Russian vaccine. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said on Facebook that he had signed a contract to acquire the Sputnik V vaccine and expects to receive 2 million doses of Sputnik V within the next three months.
Hungary has also said it will issue an emergency license for use of the Sputnik V vaccine since it has not been authorized by the European Medicines Agency.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on the radio on Friday that it was “not about politics but about human lives”.
As in many other countries, the Russian vaccine is controversial in Hungary, and opinion polls suggest most members of society do not trust it.
Chinese vaccines are momentarily off the table in Hungary, which has not renounced plans to acquire vaccines from as many sources as possible, however.