Tirana, Albania | 13 April 2021 (Tirana Echo) – The Albanian government has confirmed it is to purchase Sputnik V Russian vaccines, despite earlier refusals by its socialist prime minister towards Russian offers.
The agreement comes days after an earlier purchase of Chinese doses of Sinovac and amid growing frustration with the European Union which failed to provide western doses to poorer Balkan countries.
The official agreement between Russian company Human Vaccine LLC and the Albanian Ministry of Health to get Sputnik V deliveries has been signed on April 7th and published today in the official journal of the Albanian Government.
The official journal does not provide any details from the secret agreement, apart from the developer information of Sputnik V which is the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia.
“The agreement of supply between Human Vaccine LLC and the Albanian Ministry of Health & Social Protection and the Minister of State for Reconstruction & Public Health Institute will not be published in any institutional website or in the Official Journal, due to the commercial discretion as a demand expressed by Human Vaccine LLC.” – says the Albanian Government.
The agreement with Russia marks a radical U-turn in the initial Albanian government strategy and comes months after Albanian PM slammed a Russian offer in December to supply Albania with Sputnik V doses.
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’.
Mr. Rama was referring to a Russian Embassy offer on the Twitter account of his Communications Director Endri Fuga, where he had earlier slammed European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, on the EU failure to help Western Balkan countries with anti-Covid vaccine doses.
“So close, yet so far. WB still left on their own on this,” – had tweeted Mr. Fuga back in December 2020.
The Russians did not waste a moment and used the opportunity to make their offer publicly on the social network.
“Dear Mr. Fuga, we would like to inform you that the Russian Direct Investment Fund is authorized to negotiate directly with countries interested to purchase anti-Covid vaccines. We have no doubt that Russia is ready to bring its Sputnik V vaccine to Albania.” – wrote the Russian Embassy in Tirana in reply to Mr. Fuga’s tweet.
Albanian PM Rama dismissed the offer publicly as a ‘joke’ and demanded an apology from Russia.
“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 rapidly over the past months with the European Union’s failure to share vaccines with the poorer 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.
In March, Albania started mass vaccination of people over 70 following the arrival of 192,000 doses of Chinese coronavirus vaccine Sinovac which were unexpectedly and mysteriously secured from Turkey.
The change of the small Balkan country’s initial strategy to only accept western approved vaccines, may be explained by its electoral campaign fever.
Albania is heading to general elections on April 25th and the ruling socialist government of PM Edi Rama is eager to show results in its vaccination program as it hopes to win a third term in power.
On the top of the latest Sputnik V agreement, Albania expects around 2,5 million vaccines by 2022 secured through Pfizer, Astra-Zeneca, Sinovac’s distributor in Turkey and through the global initiative Covax.
Albania has so far vaccinated more than 270,000 people. Assuming every person needs 2 doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 4.8% of the country’s 2,8m population.
Although it lags well behind its neighbor Serbia which has vaccinated 2,8 million people, it stands ahead of North Macedonia, Montenegro or Kosovo according to Reuters Covid-19 Tracker.
COVID-19 infections have been decreasing in Albania, with 246 new infections reported on average each day. That’s 22% of the peak — the highest daily average reported on February 11.
In total, there have been 128,518 infections and 2,321 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country since the pandemic began.
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