Dusko Milojevic, the owner of a nightclub in Belgrade, has lost two close friends to the coronavirus. As a result, he didn’t care where the vaccine came from when the Serbian government gave it to him.
“I only cared that it has been approved somewhere,” said Milojevic, who got his second shot of China’s Sinopharm vaccine on February 10.
“I am sure that China would not kill Chinese people.”
Although the United States and other Western countries have concentrated on vaccinating their own citizens, China has promised to provide half a billion vaccine doses to countries all over the world.
People from Chile to Zimbabwe and Indonesia are lined up to get the shots, despite concerns about their effectiveness and safety.
“We’re seeing certainly real-time vaccine diplomacy start to play out, with China in the lead, in terms of being able to manufacture vaccines within China and make them available to others, largely low- and middle-income countries around the world,” said Dr Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Global Health Innovation Center at Duke University in the US.
According to the Associated Press, at least one of the three Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccines has been obtained or requested by around four dozen countries.
China has exported about ten times as many vaccine doses as it has administered domestically.
The ruling Communist Party claims that this is vaccine collaboration rather than vaccine diplomacy, and argues that there are any hidden agendas.
“We believe that all countries should work together to resist vaccine nationalism and promote the impartial and reasonable distribution of vaccines, especially distribution among developing countries,” says Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, Udayakumar claims that Beijing is simply using “soft power” by selling or even donating vaccines to those less developed countries.
“When you’re making diplomatic decisions in two or three years, you may have fond memories of who was there to help you in the middle of a crisis,” he says.
Chinese vaccines have lower efficacy rates than Western vaccines like those from Pfizer and Moderna. However, no significant side effects have been recorded so far, which is enough for some leaders.
“We will be able to save thousands and thousands of lives,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said recently as she greeted a vaccine shipment at the airport.
“I can’t find the words to express all of my gratitude to China.”
Serbia was the first European country to begin prescribing China’s vaccines to its citizens. The government claims to have imported just over 2.6 million doses from a variety of outlets, the bulk of which came from China.
The European Union has stringent vaccine laws, and the Chinese shots have not been authorised.
Milojevic is optimistic that business will pick up by the summer. But he understands that there are certain things that no vaccine can cure.
“There are more and more of us who have somebody very close and dear that died of corona,” he says. “And that person was not someone who did not adhere to the measures, pretending that the disease does not exist. They just disappeared.”