ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Despite its infection surge, Croatia is becoming a new favored destination for Russians seeking vaccination with Western jabs, which they need to travel around Europe and the U.S.
The biggest vaccination facility in the capital Zagreb has a separate queue for foreigners. Officials said these are mostly Russians who come usually on a one-day trip to get inoculated.
“(Russians) are coming here for their third dose,” said Valentino Rajkovic, a coordinator at the Zagreb fair vaccination center. “In two weeks, they get their COVID passports.”
Russians also have been traveling to neighboring Serbia for vaccinations, because the Russian-made Sputnik V and other vaccines available at home have not been approved by the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency. Therefore, Russian citizens cannot travel to the West with home-made vaccines.
Boris Kulatmetov said he needs to travel to European Union countries to see his clients and has no other way to arrange business meetings, so he came to Croatia to get a vaccine that allows him to travel.
“That is what I cannot get in Russia, a vaccine that is acceptable in Europe,” he said, waiting in a long queue for his turn.
Andriy, who gave only his first name, said he wants to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is highly popular because it comes in just one shot. He said this makes Croatia “comfortable” for foreign visitors.
Vaccination abroad has become known as “vaccine tourism,” and is usually handled by travel agencies which offer it as part of a package tour including accommodation, sightseeing and excursions.
Croatian media have reported that additional flights have been organized from Russia, bringing in dozens of people on a daily basis. Croatia also is a favorite European summer tourism destination because of its Adriatic Sea coast.
Not only foreigners have been flocking to the vaccination points in the EU nation. Croats too are coming in increasing numbers after new virus infections and hospitalizations hit record highs in the past weeks.
On Wednesday, health authorities confirmed a new pandemic record of 7,315 infections over the past 24 hours in the country of 4.2 million. Vaccination in Croatia stands around 50%, well below the EU average of 75%.
Croatia's Public Heath Institute said on Wednesday that 15,204 people received a first dose on the previous day, in a significant rise after inoculation was all but halted for months in the country. Authorities have opened new vaccination points to meet the demand.
To try and curb infections and encourage inoculation, the government has introduced mandatory COVID passes — requiring a vaccination certificate, proof that someone has had COVID-19 or a negative test — to access all state institutions.
Other countries of Central and Eastern Europe that have a vaccination rate of 50% of the population or less have also suffered a recent virus surge. Many have reported record numbers of infections and deaths, blamed on the highly contagious delta virus variant and disrespect of anti-virus recommendations.
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