Vaccination has slowed to a trickle even though Bosnia has Europe’s highest coronavirus mortality rate at 4.5%

Hospitals across Bosnia are again filling with COVID-19 patients gasping for air, and the country’s pandemic death toll is rising. Yet vaccination sites are mostly empty and unused coronavirus vaccines are fast approaching their expiration dates.

When the European Union launched its mass vaccination campaign, non-member Bosnia struggled along with most other Balkan nations to get supplies. By late spring, however, hundreds of thousands of doses started pouring into the country.

But after an initial rush of people clamoring to get jabbed, demand for shots quickly slowed. It is now down to a trickle even though Bosnia has Europe’s highest coronavirus mortality rate at 4.5%, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Dr. Edin Drljevic, an infectious disease specialist at one of Bosnia’s largest hospitals, in Sarajevo, thinks the disconnect is partly a result of authorities failing to properly promote vaccination against COVID-19.

“At first, we only had negative publicity because of the failure to secure vaccines, but once the vaccines finally started arriving, mainly through donations, people became picky,” he said.

So far, just under 13% of Bosnia’s 3.3 million people have been fully vaccinated, among the lowest shares in Europe. Even people willing to get inoculated are putting off shots so they can choose the vaccine they want instead of receiving whichever one is available.

Bosnia currently administers the Pfizer-BioNTech, Sputnik V, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines. AstraZeneca’s product, while the most widely available, appears to enjoy the least trust because of extensive news coverage when numerous European countries temporary suspended its use due to concerns about possible, rare side effects.

“The bottom line is, people are poorly informed and lack up-to-date knowledge,” Drljevic said.

With so few takers, over 50,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses have already expired; an additional 350,000 doses are set to expire in October

The pandemic has amplified the many problems of the Balkan nation, which is still struggling to recover from a devastating interethnic war in 1992-95. Nearly half of Bosnia’s people live under or close to the poverty line.

The country has an extreme shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as rampant public corruption. Several elected and appointed government officials are under investigation or on trial for suspected malfeasance in the procurement of needed medical equipment and supplies during the pandemic.

The high-profile cases make Bosnians susceptible to claims that their leaders are acting in concert with corrupt pharmaceutical companies and are “happy to sacrifice them” for personal gain, according to Slavo Kukic, a sociology professor at Mostar University in southern Bosnia.

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