Prime Minister Zoran Zaev insisted NATO commitments had stopped his country from acquiring Russian or Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccines sooner, as neighbouring Serbia did.
“We are different from Serbia because our people decided we are pro-NATO, so we make our decisions in accordance with our strategic commitments and probably Serbia, because … they express themselves as military-political neutral, had the opportunity to strike agreements directly with countries that are not members of the EU or NATO, i.e. China and Russia,” Zaev told Sitel TV on Tuesday.
Zaev added that this policy had changed once the world realized the serious shortage of vaccines. “Then a general policy and strategy developed that this is a sovereign right [to buy vaccines] and we acted immediately and immediately placed orders from China and Russia,” Zaev added.
North Macedonia became NATO’s 30th member state in 2020.
Zaev’s government is under intense criticism for not pursuing deals with Russia and China to buy their vaccines early on, last autumn, as Serbia did. Instead, it initially relied solely on the WHO-backed COVAX mechanism, which has failed to deliver.
Unlike militarily neutral Serbia, which leads the region in terms of vaccination of its population, North Macedonia only struck deals with Chinese and Russian companies in February and is still waiting for the first major shipment to arrive so it can start mass inoculation.
So far it has vaccinated only a portion of its medical staff, thanks to 8,000 jabs produced by Pfizer, which it received from Serbia on February 14. On Sunday, North Macedonian received another 3,000 jabs from Russia.
The shortage has occurred despite the country having recently commissioned the purchase of some 2.3 million shots from basically all available sources, including from Russia and China.
Zaev now expects the first shipment of 21,000 vaccines coming directly from Pfizer to arrive by the end of March. By then, the country expects the first 20,000 to 30,000 vaccines through the COVAX system, as well as the first shots from China.