Serbia begins COVID-19 vaccination drive, with PM first in line

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Serbian PM Brnabic receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Belgrade

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ana Brnabic received Serbia's first COVID-19 vaccine shot on Thursday, kicking off a mass inoculation drive with doses developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Serbia is the third country in Europe to start mass COVID-19 inoculations after Britain and Switzerland.

Some 4,875 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech coronavirus vaccines were flown on Tuesday to Serbia.

"I'm honoured to be able to do this for my country and be the first one, paving the way for other citizens (to be vaccinated)," Brnabic said after being inoculated at the Institute of Virology, Vaccines and Sera in Belgrade.

Most states in the European Union, which Serbia aims to join, will start inoculations against COVID-19 on Dec. 27.

The United States has given emergency approval to vaccination shots developed by Pfizer/BioNTech as well as by Moderna.

Brnabic said shipments of China's Sinopharm vaccines and Russia's Sputnik V vaccines were expected to arrive in the country soon, but did not give any specific time line.

She said President Aleksandar Vucic will most likely get the Sinopharm vaccine. "We agreed that the two us take shots from different producers," Brnabic told reporters. Serbia would obtain the AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines as well next year.

Most of the initial Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines will be given to the elderly accommodated in retirement homes.

Serbia on Wednesday reported 4,426 coronavirus infections in the past 24 hours and 52 deaths. Since the start of the pandemic early this year, around 312,000 people in the country, including more than 3,000 nurses and doctors, have become infected, and 2,833 have died. Hospitals are running at full capacity.

(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mark Heinrich)