Belgrade, Serbia —
It was a moment of public pride when Russian regulators approved the country’s own coronavirus vaccine, and the Pavlov family was one of those who received injections in a hurry. However, international health officials have not yet blessed Sputnik V shooting.
So when Rostov-on-Don’s family wanted to visit the west, they sought a vaccine that they could travel freely. In the quest that took him to Serbia, hundreds of Russian citizens flocked to embrace the West in recent weeks. -Approved COVID-19 shots.
Serbia, which is not a member of the European Union, is a convenient option for Russians seeking vaccines because it allows them to enter the Balkans of their allies without a visa and offers a wide selection of Western-made shots. Organized tours for Russians are on the rise and can be found in hotels, restaurants, bars and vaccination clinics in the capital Belgrade.
“I vaccinated Pfizer because I want to travel around the world,” said Nagezida Pablois, 54, after receiving the vaccine at the vast Belgrade vaccination center last weekend.
Her husband, Vitaly Pavlov, 55, said, “I wanted the whole world to be open to us, not just a few countries.”
According to the Russian Tour Operators Association, a vaccination tour package for Russians looking for shots approved by the World Health Organization was launched on the market in mid-September.
Maya Lomidze, managing director of the group, said prices start at $ 300 to $ 700, depending on what is included.
Sputnik V, praised by Russian President Vladimir Putin as the world’s first registered COVID-19 vaccine, appeared in August 2020 and has been approved in about 70 countries, including Serbia. However, WHO said global approval is still under consideration after raising issues at the production plant a few months ago.
On Friday, a World Health Organization top executive said the legal issue pending a review of Sputnik V was “being resolved” and could resume the process for an emergency use authorization. is.
Dr. Mariangela Shimao, Deputy Director of WHO, said other hurdles remain in Russia’s application, including the lack of complete scientific information and on-site inspections.
Apart from WHO, Sputnik V is also awaiting approval from the European Medicines Agency before lifting all travel restrictions on people vaccinated with Russian prescriptions.
The long waits frustrated many Russians, so when WHO announced yet another delay in September, they began looking for solutions elsewhere.
“People don’t want to wait. People need to be able to enter Europe for a variety of personal reasons,” explained Anna Filatovskaya, a spokeswoman for the Russky Express travel agency in Moscow. “Some have relatives, some are working, some are studying, some are working. Some are unwilling to go to Europe.”
Serbia, an Orthodox Christian and Slavic companion, offers shots of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and China National Pharmaceutical. The Russian Tourism Board also offers tours to Croatia due to its popular demand. In Croatia, tourists can get the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine without returning to the second dose.
“For Serbia, demand is growing like an avalanche,” said Firatovskaya. “It looks like our company is selling tours in Serbia lately.”
The Balkans introduced immunization to foreigners in August, when domestic vaccination promotion slowed after reaching about 50% of the adult population. According to official Serbian government data, nearly 160,000 foreigners have been vaccinated in the country so far, but the number of Russians is unknown.
In Russia, the national vaccination rate was low. By this week, nearly 33% of Russia’s 146 million people have been vaccinated with at least one coronavirus vaccine and 29% have been fully vaccinated. Apart from the single dose version known as Sputnik V and Sputnik Light, Russia also uses two other domestically designed vaccines that are not internationally approved.
COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations have reached record levels in the past few weeks in both Russia and Serbia, as vaccination rates are low and authorities are reluctant to take restrictions.
Russia’s daily coronavirus deaths exceeded 900 on Thursday, the day after reaching a record 929. About 1 million infections have been confirmed.
“Double protection” provided by Pfizer’s booster shots allows families to “not only travel around the world, but also fearlessly see our loved ones,” Pavlova said.
Vaccine tours have provided a welcome business to Serbian tour operators who have been hit by a pandemic in an already sluggish economy since their popularity exploded about a month ago. Predrag Tesic, owner of the BTS Kompas travel agency in Belgrade, said it was booked in advance.
“It started modestly at first, but the numbers are growing steadily day by day,” Tesic said.
He explained that his agency organizes everything from airport transportation to accommodation, translations, and assistance at other vaccination points. Russian guests will also be offered a short tour to some of Serbian’s popular locations as they return for another dose in three weeks.