Albania starts mass vaccination with Chinese and Russian jabs, despite earlier dismissal of Eastern offers

Edi Rama Albania PM Vaccine Pfizer
Albanian PM Edi Rama gets his first Pfizer jab in Tirana

Tirana, Albania | 30 July 2020 (Tirana Echo) – Albania has started mass vaccination of its population after the government secured thousands of doses of China’s Sinovac and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines, despite earlier refusals to Eastern offers.

According to the Albanian Government website, mass vaccination of people over 70 has started this week in healthcare centers across the country, following the latest arrival of 192,000 doses of Chinese coronavirus vaccine Sinovac which were unexpectedly and mysteriously secured from Turkey.

Prime Minister Edi Rama flew to Turkey to close the deal himself with a Turkish distributor of Chinese vaccines. Upon arrival back to Tirana, Mr. Rama said his government had secured 1 million doses of Sinovac in total, with 192,000 delivered this week.

A few days earlier, Albania received 10,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccines, a gift delivery by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

It is unclear why the Albanian government has changed its initial strategy of sticking to western vaccines, given the small Balkan nation’s clear geopolitical standing against eastern influences.

Initially, PM Rama had declared his country would only take vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, dismissing Russian offers of Sputnik V jabs to Albania as a ‘joke’.

I thought the Russian Embassy posting on my Communications Director twitter offering vaccines was a meme, as no serious country would make such provocations. We are focused on Pfeizer and AstraZeneca. A Russian apology would be welcomed at this point”, declared Edi Rama back in December, following an offer by the Russian Embassy in Tirana to supply Albania with Sputnik V doses.

However, frustration across the Balkans has grown over the past weeks with the European Union’s failure to share vaccines with the poor region which hopes to join the club in the near future.

In January, Albanian PM Rama said that his country had secured 500,000 doses of Pfeizer and AstraZeneca despite the lack of solidarity from the European Union.

We crossed the sea by foot and we managed to touch on dry land without any help from the EU which has given a bad example to the Balkans”, said Rama in January.

Albania has so far vaccinated 100,000 people including second doses, with 1100 vaccinating booths installed across the country. Although it lags well behind its neighbor Serbia which has vaccinated 2,5 million people, it stands ahead of North Macedonia with 5,500, Montenegro with 20,000 or Kosovo according to Reuters Covid-19 Tracker.

Albania is heading to general elections on April 25th and the ruling socialist government is eager to show results in its vaccination program as it hopes to win a third term in power. The country 2,8 million people expects around 2,5 million vaccines by 2022 secured through Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca, Sinovac’s distributor in Turkey and through the global initiative Covax.

Covid-19 infections have been decreasing in Albania, with 410 new infections reported on average each day, with the highest daily average reported on February 11.

In total, there have been 124,419 infections and 2,216 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began.

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