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COVID-19 Vaccine Delay Stirs Political Tensions In North Macedonia

North Macedonia has yet to secure its first COVID-19 vaccine dose.
North Macedonia has yet to secure its first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Political tensions have been stirred up in North Macedonia by the government's failure to deliver its first COVID-19 vaccination shot while neighboring countries boast about progress in their vaccination programs.

A government statement in Skopje on February 12 said "technical" issues had delayed the expected delivery of 8,000 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines from neighboring Serbia this week.

The handover of vaccines had been expected on February 11 during a ceremony at the Tabanovce border crossing that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had been scheduled to attend. Vucic's office said more documentation was needed after the event was canceled.

North Macedonia has yet to secure a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for its population of 2.1 million.

The main opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE, called on the center-left government to resign after the latest delay. It said "incompetence" on the part of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev had forced him to "beg” other countries for vaccines.

North Macedonia is hoping to receive 840,000 vaccine doses in February under a scheme led by the World Health Organization to help poorer countries immunize their populations. But manufacturing delays in recent weeks have held up those plans -- as well as similar plans for Ukraine and Moldova.

Earlier this week, the Macedonian authorities signed an agreement to receive 200,000 doses of the Chinese SinoPharm vaccine. They hope to launch their vaccination program later in February.

Another 800,000 vaccines are expected to arrive in the country later in 2021 through the EU. But officials in Skopje also have asked neighbors Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Serbia for assistance, along with Poland and Hungary.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service and AP

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