European Union member Austria said on April 20 that it plans to send 651,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to six countries in the Western Balkans by August as part of an EU scheme to provide assistance to neighboring countries and Africa.
Vienna said that this first distribution of doses may be followed by others.
The European Commission in January announced plans for a vaccine-sharing mechanism, with Austria serving as the mechanism’s coordinator for the Western Balkans.
Among the six Western Balkans countries, Serbia has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe.
But the other five — Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Kosovo have had less success. The shortage of vaccines has even led to street protests in Bosnia.
“With this initiative we are showing that we are not leaving the region behind,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference.
Schallenberg, whose government faces growing public frustration with the slow pace of vaccinations in his own country, said the doses will not be taken away from Austria’s quota.
“There is absolutely no connection here to the provision of vaccines in Austria and in other (EU) member states,” he said.
“These doses are not from a national quota. These are vaccine doses that the EU explicitly secured from the beginning for the purpose of passing them on to partners.”
Schallenberg said the vaccines will be distributed from early next month based on which countries need them most.
Bosnia will get the biggest share with 214,000 doses, followed by Albania with 145,000, and North Macedonia with 119,000. Serbia is last with 36,000.