BELGRADE, Sept. 14 — Construction of the first Chinese vaccine factory in Europe began in Belgrade on Thursday, amid the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that ravages Serbia and its neighboring countries.
The new facility is expected to produce 30 million COVID-19 vaccine doses annually starting from April 2022, and to supply Serbia and several other countries in the region with the Chinese-developed Sinopharm vaccines.
China is the first to cooperate with other developing countries in vaccine production. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Indonesia and Brazil have become the first countries in their regions to have COVID-19 vaccine production cooperation with China, which charted a new chapter of unity and self-reliance among developing countries.
Serbia, as well as the whole region of the Western Balkans, is bracing for the fourth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic, marked by rising numbers of daily infections and patients who need medical care.
On Monday, Serbia reported 6,249 new infections after testing 21,163 people — the highest daily increase since the winter of 2020. Almost all the new infections were caused by the Delta variant.
Meanwhile, more than 3,000 people were hospitalized, of whom 142 were on ventilators.
Serbia has registered more than 823,000 infections and 7,575 deaths since reporting the first case in the country on March 6, 2020, according to its Institute of Public Health.
Although Serbia started mass vaccination in as early as January, just over 50 percent of adults have been vaccinated so far due to decreasing interest among the people. Official data shows that between 5,000 and 10,000 people have recently been applying for vaccination per day.
“THE ONLY WEAPONS”
Back in January, Serbia started its immunization campaign with China’s Sinopharm vaccine, which has been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) for emergency use and is currently one of the most widely used vaccines among Serbian citizens.
In June, Serbia started to produce Russia’s Sputnik V at the Institute of Virology, Vaccines and Sera “Torlak” in Belgrade. Serbia also offers Sputnik V, Pfizer-BioNTech, and AstraZeneca jabs.
“We know that vaccines became really the only tools or weapons which proved efficient in this battle so far … and we have to build a very strong network of production facilities,” Jelena Begovic, director of the Institute of Molecular Genetics and Genetic Engineering of the University of Belgrade, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
A year ago, Begovic cooperated with specialists from China’s BGI group on the construction of two “Fire Eye” laboratories for PCR testing and witnessed China’s assistance to Serbia in medical supplies, expert advice and vaccines.
“It is of great importance for Serbia that we are getting vaccine production and technologies from all around the world,” said Begovic, expressing appreciation to her Chinese colleagues for the help and assistance with vaccine production.
In July, a memorandum of understanding on the co-production of Sinopharm vaccine in Serbia was signed in Belgrade between the Serbian government, Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm, and tech company Group 42 from the UAE. Later in August and September, local construction and pharmaceutical companies were selected to carry out the project.
According to the plan, the first batch of vaccines could be bottled in October and about 6 million doses could be completed by the end of the year. These vaccine doses will be used primarily in Serbia, and only the surplus will be exported to neighboring countries.
The new factory will be producing 3 million doses of vaccine a month by the end of March 2022, the deadline for the completion of its civil construction.
Laying the foundation stone for the vaccine factory on Thursday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that he was proud that Serbia, together with partners from China and the UAE, was “trying and seems to be able to solve some global problems.”
“This partnership is not a partnership of interest, but a proof of friendship … Everything we said we would do, we did together … This will be a regional miracle, and Serbian pride,” Vucic said.
Addressing the 13th BRICS summit via video link on the same day, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China would strive to provide a total of 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to the world by the end of this year, noting that China has provided more than 1 billion doses of finished and bulk vaccines to over 100 countries and international organizations. (Xinhua)