LOZNICA, Serbia (AP) — Hundreds of Bosnian Serb medical workers crossed into Serbia to receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot on Wednesday after Belgrade donated vaccine doses to neighboring nations in a bid to highlight its regional reach and influence.
Serbia, a country of 7 million, has vaccinated more than 660,000 of its own people with the first of two doses. It has started administering the second shot, mainly with China’s Sinopharm vaccines, along with Russia’s Sputnik V and to a lesser extent, jabs from Pfizer-BioNTech.
Serbia is a European leader in terms of the speed of its vaccination rollout thanks to its strong relations with China and Russia.
Both the the Chinese and the Russian vaccines have not been approved by the European Union’s medical authorities. Faced with a vaccine delivery slowdown, EU-member Hungary has approved the use of the Russian and Chinese shots while Croatia is considering using Sputnik V for its own inoculation drive.
The Bosnian Serbs were vaccinated in three Serbian towns that are close to the border with Bosnia. About 2,000 health staff from Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity have applied for the jabs and several hundred will receive them daily, officials said.
Aleksandar Radosavljevic, a doctor who was among those who crossed over into Serbia from the eastern Bosnian town of Bijeljina, described the occasion as a “very happy day for us.”
“This doesn’t mean protection for the medical staff only, but also for the patients and people (we work with,)” he said.
Bosnian Serbs have close ties with Serbia, while other parts of Bosnia are dominated by Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims, and Croats. The autonomous regions were set up in a peace deal that ended the 1992-95 war.
Serbia was widely been seen as the aggressor in the Balkan wars during the 1990’s, that resulted in more than 100,000 deaths and millions being left homeless.
In a move designed to burnish its image, Serbia donated more than 4,000 vaccines to North Macedonia and is sending more to Montenegro later on Wednesday. It has also offered the vaccines to the Bosniak and Croat parts of Bosnia.
North Macedonia’s health authorities started vaccinating the country’s of medical workers on Wednesday using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Serbia. They said another shipment from Serbia of about 4,000 doses is expected next week.