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Serbia becomes first European country to use Chinese COVID-19 vaccine

·4 min read
A medical staff prepares a dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine to vaccinate Serbian Health Minister at the virology institute in Belgrade on January 19, 2021. - Serbia launched  a mass Covid-19 vaccination campaign and became the first European country to use Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, given to the country's health minister first. Serbia received on January 16, 2021 one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical staff prepares a dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine. (AFP via Getty Images)

Serbia has become the first European country to begin a mass inoculation program with a Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine.

It comes as European nations race to vaccinate their populations against the deadly virus.

Serbia, which is not a member of the EU, started injecting members of its military with Chinese Sinopharm’s vaccine after it received one million doses last week.

The country has already used its supply of vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech in the US and Russia’s Sputnik V jab on medical workers and care home residents.

Read: People in lockdown ‘feel more hopeless than first-time prisoners’, new study shows

Now essential workers such as police officers, teachers and soldiers are receiving the Chinese jab as of Tuesday.

China approved the shot developed by Sinopharm's BIBP in late December – its first COVID-19 vaccine for general public use.

No detailed efficacy data has been released, but BIBP has said the vaccine is 79.34% effective based on interim data.

A Serbian army officer receives a dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine at a newly established vaccination centre in Belgrade on January 19, 2021. - Serbia launched  a mass Covid-19 vaccination campaign and became the first European country to use Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine, given to the country's health minister first. Serbia received on January 16, 2021 one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine. (Photo by Andrej ISAKOVIC / AFP) (Photo by ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)
A Serbian army officer receives a dose of the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine at a newly-established vaccination centre in Belgrade. (AFP via Getty Images)

More than 20,000 Serbians have been vaccinated so far since the mass vaccination began in late December.

Out of all the European countries, the UK has vaccinated by far the greatest number of people since it first approved the Pfizer vaccine in early December.

According to Our World In Data, 4.51 million Brits have so far received jabs with the government aiming to vaccinate 15 million people by mid-February.

This is followed by Italy, which has vaccinated 1.19 million people, then Germany at 1.25 million, Spain at 897,000 and France at 479,000.

COVID-19 vaccines per 100 people
COVID-19 vaccines per 100 people

In terms of vaccine per population, the UK has also administered the most doses, at 6.65 per 100 people in the country, according to Statista.

This is followed by Denmark, which has carried out 2.94 doses of the vaccine in 100, followed by Malta with a vaccination rate of 2.65.

It comes as the race to vaccinate populations grows increasingly political in the bloc.

Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of the US pharmaceutical company Moderna, criticised the EU’s slow approach to ordering vaccine doses, telling L’Express: “Europe has relied too much on the success of European laboratories. The American approach has been much more pragmatic.”

Watch: EU double order of Pfizer jab enough to vaccinate 380 million Europeans

The EU has also committed to rolling out vaccines to all countries at the same time, thus facing the potential bureaucracy of 27 other countries working together.

While the bloc has ordered enough Pfizer doses to vaccinate 380 million people of its 446 million population, six EU countries have already blasted delays to the delivery of their supply.

Some EU countries were told their Pfizer deliveries would be reduced until 8 February while others were not told how long their deliveries would be reduced for, according to a letter from six EU health ministers to health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, seen by POLITICO last week.

People wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus sit on a bus in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. A spate of rainy and snowy weather across the Balkans in the past days has left homes and fields flooded, disrupted road and sea traffic and caused power outages. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
People wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus sit on a bus in Belgrade. (AP)

While all six ministers stressed that they support the EU's joint vaccination strategy, they called the delays "unacceptable”.

"Not only does [the hold-up] impact the planned vaccination schedules, it also decreases the credibility of the vaccination process," they said.

It comes after Pfizer recently announced delays in delivering the jab from now through early February, citing manufacturing upgrades. This means countries could see their supplies reduced until then.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that there could be a “catastrophic moral failure” if the world’s richest countries “hoard” COVID-19 vaccines.

Read more

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Countries hoarding COVID vaccines will 'prolong the pandemic', WHO chief warns

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said people in the world’s poorest nations are being forgotten in the global race to vaccinate against coronavirus.

He said rich nations’ attempts to “jump to the front of the queue” for vaccines will “only prolong the pandemic”.

In a speech from Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday, Dr Tedros said a “me-first approach” had left the “world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk”.

He pointed out that more than 39 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in at least 49 “higher-income” countries.

Watch: How does the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine work?

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