Albania began inoculating medical professionals from Kosovo on Saturday to help its neighbour fight back against COVID-19, which has killed over 1,700 people in the country.
Kosovo is yet to receive a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine despite its northern neighbour, Serbia, having already vaccinated 15% of its population.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 in a move still not recognised by Belgrade and although the two countries are engaged in an EU-brokered dialogue, relations are strained.
Serbia aroused anger in Pristina in recent weeks after it began vaccinating Serb residents of northern Kosovo without the government’s consent. Around 120,000 Serbs remain in the north of Kosovo two decades after the two countries fought a war between 1998 and 1999.
Kosovo is unwilling to take vaccine stocks from Serbia, the country’s prime minister in waiting told Euronews last month, or from Russia. Albin Kurti, whose party won a landslide victory on February 14, said that Kosovo would wait for vaccine stocks via the COVAX mechanism.
“We are not going to get vaccines from Serbia, which gets vaccines from Russia and China,” Kurti told Euronews on February 16. “It has been proven that there is no certainty regarding quality [and] there are always strings attached.”
But amid a chaotic vaccination programme in Europe and allegations of vaccine protectionism against European states, Kosovo’s reluctance to receive stocks from either Russia or China, neither of which recognise it as an independent state, has left it with no vaccines at all.
Albania has stepped into the breach, with Prime Minister Edi Rana, speaking in the border town of Kukes, pledging that if Kosovo fails to secure the vaccines soon enough, Albania will assist with the shots for all of Kosovo’s 11,000 medical staff.
Albania itself has started vaccinating its own population, although the process has been slow, with just over 36,000 vaccinations so far.