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World

Vaccine tourists welcome as Serbians say 'no thanks' to jabs

  • "I beg you, people, get a vaccine," Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic pleaded.
Updated 04 Apr 2021

BELGRADE: While most of the world struggles to secure enough Covid-19 vaccines, Serbia faces a different battle -- how to persuade its citizens to get the life-saving shot.

The small Balkan country has so many vaccines available it has even offered jabs to any foreigner who can get themself there, sparking an influx of thousands of "vaccine tourists" from neighbouring countries.

The situation is the result of a diplomatic juggle between East and West that saw Belgrade secure deals for nearly 15 million vaccine doses for its population of seven million.

With around three million doses already in hand -- a buffet of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Sinopharm -- and two million of those already administered, one of Europe's poorest corners has quickly found itself among the continent's fastest vaccinators.

However, according to the government, little more than a quarter of those eligible to receive the precious shot applied for one.

After Serbia vaccinated most of those who came forward, the pace started to stall.

In the last two weeks of March, the number of people receiving their first dose dropped to around 12,000 daily, roughly half the number over the same period in February, according to data collected by AFP from official sources.

With jabs in abundance, last week Serbia took the highly unusual step of offering foreign citizens the chance to apply to have the shot. Migrants have also been offered the vaccine.

The authorities also urged Serbian citizens who had still not been inoculated to simply show up without an appointment.

"I beg you, people, get a vaccine," Serbian populist President Aleksandar Vucic pleaded.

"We have them and we will have more, I beg you, in the name of God, take them," he said.

Serbian doctors fear that take-up of the jab has peaked.

"It's clear that there is not a sufficient number of people willing to get vaccinated," president of a doctors' union Rade Panic told AFP.