VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria said on Tuesday it plans to distribute 651,000 doses of BioNTech and Pfizer (NYSE 🙂 coronavirus vaccine delivered to six countries in the West Balkans in August as part of the European Union’s plan to provide support to neighboring countries and Africa.
The European Commission outlined its plans for a vaccine-sharing mechanism in January. Austria said it will act as the coordinator of that mechanism for the West Balkans, and that the distribution of this first dose could be followed by others.
Serbia is one of the countries with the highest immunization rates in Europe, but four other non-EU countries, former Yugoslavia and Albania have less success. In Bosnia, a shortage of vaccines has led to street protests.
“With this initiative, we are showing that we are not leaving the region behind,” Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said at a press conference. His country, the successor to an empire that stretched deep into the Balkans, maintained close ties with the countries of the region.
Austria’s Foreign Ministry said Austria has negotiated deals between BioNTech and Pfizer and the host countries. It will provide a 11 million euro (13 million USD) bridge funding grant, although grants will be paid out from the EU funding to EU candidate countries and potential candidates.
“There is absolutely no link here with the vaccine supply in Austria and other member countries (EU),” said Schallenberg, whose government is facing disappointment. The public’s growing inoculation rate is slow.
“These doses are not from national quotas. These are vaccines that the EU has clearly secured from the outset with the aim of passing them on to partners.”
They will be delivered from the beginning of May according to the countries that need them most, he said. Bosnia will have the largest market share with 214,000 doses, followed by Albania with 145,000 and North Macedonia with 119,000. Serbia is last with 36,000.
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