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‘We had to take care of ourselves’ in COVID-19 vaccine rollout, says Serbian president

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Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić speaking to Euronews from Belgrade on Wednesday, 10th February 2021
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić speaking to Euronews from Belgrade on Wednesday, 10th February 2021   -   Copyright  Euronews
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Serbia is going full steam ahead with its rollout of Russia’s and China’s coronavirus vaccines, and its experience so far shows these are "very much safe," President Aleksandar Vučić told Euronews.

"Some vaccines that were coming from the East were even safer than those that we got from the West," Vučić said in an exclusive interview on Euronews Now. "But all of them were great."

Serbia is not a member of the European Union, and so far it hasn’t received much help from the bloc in its vaccination effort. But these days it's well ahead of the pack in terms of results.

Alongside the Pfizer-BioNtech jab, Serbia has been administering Russias's Sputnik V vaccine, as well as China's Sinopharm jab. Those last two shots haven't yet been approved in the EU, but using them has allowed Serbia to post the highest rate of vaccination per capita in continental Europe.

The government has made a point of saying that vaccines shouldn't be a geopolitical matter, but a healthcare issue.

More than 550,000 people in Serbia have so far received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, out of a population of 7 million. Another 50,000 have already received their second dose, Vučić said.

He added that by the end of February, Serbia aims to have fully vaccinated – with two doses – more than one million people, or almost 15 percent of its population.

By comparison, as of early February, the EU had only vaccinated around 3 percent of its population. On Wednesday, European Commission Chief Ursula Von der Leyen faced a grilling in the European Parliament over the supply shortfalls that have been plaguing the bloc.

Vučić said his country had so far not received a single dose from the COVAX scheme, which the EU joined to ensure poorer countries also get access to COVID-19 vaccines.

"Many countries got their vaccines. And so far, we didn't get a single one from the COVAX programme. We got it from our bilateral arrangement with the Americans, with Pfizer. We got it from China, we got it from Russia. But we didn't get it from the European Union," Vučić said.

"I'm not criticising anyone (…) But we needed to take care of ourselves. It's not easy watching the others in the surroundings taking all those vaccines, and you have nothing to offer to your people."

"I spoke several times to many people from the United Kingdom, China, Russia, all top officials. I was begging them, I was asking for more vaccines for Serbia – and not only for Serbia," he said.

He added that he hoped, in due time, to receive most of its vaccines from the EU. He said that for its part, Serbia stands ready to donate "a big chunk" of its doses to North Macedonia and possibly to other Balkan countries in need, "because we need our neighbours to be vaccinated, to be inoculated in the way that we are."

Watch highlights of the interview in the video player above.