Because the domestic vaccine Sputnik V does not open the door in many countries, Russians who are hungry for travel can increase their vaccination protection in the Balkans with internationally recognized vaccines.
When Sputnik V was approved in Russia, the Pavlovs were among the first to have the corona vaccine from domestic production injected. But then they found themselves in a dilemma: The Russian vaccine is still largely not recognized internationally, and the Sputnik V vaccination certificate is not sufficient for traveling in many countries. And the Pavlovs wanted to travel.
For the flight to the west, the family from Rostov-on-Don only found the solution to look elsewhere for another vaccine. The search led them to Serbia. In the Balkan country, which Russians are allowed to enter without a visa, the Pavlovs had the choice between several vaccines from the West that are internationally recognized.
You were – and are – by no means the only ones who took the money for the vaccination increase in Serbia. Hundreds of their compatriots have traveled to Serbia in the last few weeks to get their Covid-19 vaccination ready for holidays and visits to western countries. Organized tours for vaccinators from Russia have become a booming business.
Such vaccination tour packages have been on the market since mid-September, according to the Russian tour operator association. The prices start at the equivalent of around 270 to 640 euros, depending on what is included, as managing director Maja Lomidse explains.
“We got the Biontech vaccination because we want to travel around the world,” says 54-year-old Nadezhda Pavlova after the injection in a Belgrade vaccination center. The whole world should be open to her, not just a few countries, adds her husband Vitaly Pavlov.
Sputnik V was presented by Russia in the summer of 2020. President Vladimir Putin celebrated the vaccine as the world’s first registered corona vaccine. Since then, Sputnik V has been recognized in around 70 countries, including Serbia. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) is still hesitant and points out that the preparation is still being tested.
Recently, the WHO reported that legal issues that were slowing down the process were about to be resolved. However, other hurdles remain, including, from an international perspective, a lack of complete scientific disclosure and inadequate inspections at the production sites, as WHO Vice Director General Mariangela Simao explains. The European Medicines Agency EMA has not yet approved Sputnik V either.
Frustrated by the long wait, many Russians took to self-help in September, that is, to go to Serbia for the vaccination, when the WHO announced further delays in September. “People don’t want to wait,” emphasizes Anna Filatowskaja from the Moscow travel company Russki Express. They wanted to travel all over Europe for a variety of reasons. «Some have relatives there. Some have business, some study, some work. Some just want to travel to Europe because they lack it. “
In addition to the Chinese Sinopharm, Biontech and AstraZeneca are also on offer in Serbia. There have been vaccinations for foreigners there since August. According to official figures, almost 160,000 people have made use of it so far, but it is not clear how many of them came from Russia.
Due to high demand, Russian tour operators have meanwhile also extended their trips to Croatia, where tourists can be vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The big advantage of this is that one syringe is enough for now, so there is no need for a second trip a few weeks later.
The tourism industry is happy
“The demand for Serbia has grown like an avalanche,” says Filatovskaya. “It’s kind of like our company is currently doing nothing but selling tours to Serbia.”
The colleagues in the target country are happy. After the corona slump in the industry, the vaccination tourists are bringing money back into the cash register. They are currently well booked, says Predrag Tesic, head of the BTS Kompas travel agency in Belgrade.
His company takes care of everything, from airport transfers and accommodation to translation at the vaccination center. When arriving for the second vaccination, a visit to some of the sights of Serbia is on the program, explains Tesic and is looking forward to more customers. “It started out cautiously, but the numbers are increasing nicely from day to day.”