Bosnia to order Russian, Chinese vaccines ahead of COVAX, EU deliveries

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" are placed on dry ice in this illustration

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia plans to order Russian and Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines fearing that deliveries ordered under the COVAX scheme for poor countries and from the European Union will be too little too late, officials said on Thursday.

Inoculations in the Western Balkans have begun in Serbia, which has directly ordered Pfizer/BioNTech, Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines.

But Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo have not received any vaccines as yet. Albania has received some.

Bosnia has ordered 1.2 million vaccines under the COVAX scheme and nearly 900,000 vaccines from the EU for its two autonomous regions, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic, and expects the first batch to arrive soon, Prime Minister Zoran Tegeltija said. Bosna applied for EU membership in 2016.

The COVAX scheme, led by the World Health Organization and GAVI vaccine alliance, is due to start rolling out vaccines to poor and middle-income countries in February, with 2 of 3 billion doses expected to be delivered this year.

But it has so far struggled to secure enough shots due to a shortage of funds, while wealthy nations have booked large volumes of vaccines for themselves. Europe has also suffered delays in deliveries from Pfizer.

Bosnia's central government, over which Tegeltija presides, does not have the authority to order vaccines directly from producers. The two regions also can only make orders through authorised agencies.

Under strong public pressure, the two otherwise rival regions and the central government agreed on Thursday to work together to order directly from Pfizer and the Russian and Chinese producers, Tegeltija told a news conference.

"Bearing in mind the delays in deliveries, we have decided to start this very complicated procurement system," he said.

Bosnia, with a population of about 3.5 million, on Thursday recorded a total of 119,206 coronavirus infections, with 18,123 active cases and 4,536 deaths.

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Nick Macfie)