Austria will redirect 651,000 doses of COVID vaccine to the Western Balkans from the EU

Austria said on Tuesday it plans to target 651,000 doses of BioNTech and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to six Western Balkan countries by August as part of the European Union’s aid scheme to neighboring countries and Africa.

The European Commission outlined its plans for a vaccine exchange mechanism in January. Austria said that it would serve as the coordinator of that mechanism for the Western Balkans, and that this first distribution of doses might follow others.

Serbia has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, but four other non-EU countries and Albania that are not members of the EU have had less success. In Bosnia, a shortage of vaccines has led to street protests. read more

“With this initiative, we are showing that we are not leaving the region behind,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference. His country, a successor state to an empire that once stretched deep into the Balkans, maintains close ties with countries in the region.

Austria has been negotiating agreements between BioNTech and Pfizer and the recipient countries, its Foreign Ministry said. It will provide bridge funding of 11m euros ($ 13m), although doses will be paid from EU aid funds to EU candidate and potential candidate countries.

“It has absolutely nothing to do here with the provision of vaccines in Austria and other (EU) member states,” said Schallenberg, whose government is facing growing public frustration over the slow pace of vaccination.

“These doses are not from the national quota. These are vaccine doses that the EU has explicitly provided for transmission to partners.”

They will be distributed from the beginning of May according to which countries need them the most, he said. Bosnia will get the largest share with 214,000 doses, followed by Albania with 145,000 and Northern Macedonia with 119,000. Serbia is last with 36,000.

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