BELGRADE – The Czech Republic’s prime minister visited Serbia on Wednesday to find out more about the Balkan nation's mass inoculation program with Chinese and Russian vaccines that have not yet been approved by the European Union's drug regulator.
Czech leader Andrej Babis has been seeking vaccines outside the EU’s common program after deliveries from EU-approved Western drug companies have been delayed. With a team of experts, Babis last week also visited Hungary, which has been the first EU country to give a green light to the Russian vaccine.
Thanks to the Chinese and Russian vaccines, Serbia is currently second in Europe after Britain in the rate of the vaccination rollout per capita.
“I have been trying to gather as much information about other vaccines that have not been approved,” Babis said in Belgrade after meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.
Babis told reporters before the trip that the Czech Republic is not ready to use the Russian Sputnik V vaccine before it wins the EU nod from the European Medicines Agency. He said in Belgrade on Wednesday that his EU nation wants to be “ready” once the approval comes in.
“It is of utmost importance for us to get as many safe vaccines as possible,” Babis said. “We should abandon politics and talk about people's health, because the (virus) situation in the Czech Republic is not good.”
The Czech Republic, a country of 10 million, has recorded over 1 million infections and seen more than 17,600 confirmed virus deaths.
Serbia so far has vaccinated more than half a million people, mainly with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, Russia's Sputnik V and to a lesser extent with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. The populist Serbian leadership has cultivated close ties with China and Russia, which are both vying for influence in the strategically important southwestern European region.
Brnabic said the country's experience with all three vaccines has been “excellent.”
Babis's visit included a tour of a mass inoculation center in Belgrade. Officials have announced a new round of mass vaccinations with the expected arrival later Wednesday of 500,000 more doses of China's Sinopharm vaccine.
The Czech Health Ministry has announced that a Moderna vaccine delivery scheduled for Monday will be delayed one week and that only half of the expected dozes, 44,000, will arrive.