Albania started a mass inoculation campaign Sunday ahead of the summer tourism season after acquiring 192,000 doses of Chinese coronavirus vaccine Sinovac earlier this week.
Hundreds of people age 70 and above gathered at Tirana’s main Skanderbeg Square to get a jab in two big tents.
Liri Bizhiti, 76, one of those waiting in line, was happy to receive the vaccine after a year of isolation, and on the same day as her husband.
“Thank God it came,” she told The Associated Press while accompanied by her daughter. “We are so happy.”
Vaccination has proceeded slowly in the Balkan country since mid-January before the arrival of the Sinovac vaccine, with Albania receiving less than 100,000 Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Sputnik V doses. The country has inoculated 65,000 medical personnel, people age 80 and over, and schoolteachers so far.
Albania, which has a population of 2.8 million, has signed contracts for a total of about 2.5 million vaccine doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Sinovac. The government is continuing to work on securing new vaccine contracts so the entire population can be fully vaccinated by early 2022.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Edi Rama went to Turkey and brought back the 192,000 Sinovac doses. The remainder of the 500,000 Sinovac doses Albania is due to receive will come in two months.
Rama also said Sinovac would build a factory in Albania to produce different vaccines.
Albania aims to give at least 10,000 shots a day and to complete 500,000 jabs by June, Health Minister Ogerta Manastirliu said.
“This process will not stop and our ambitious plan of vaccination aims that in 14 months we complete it (for the entire population) and achieve immunization,” the minister said.
The government aims to make the country ready to welcome tourists this summer. In the years before the virus outbreak, tourism became a significant industry in the country’s economy.
“I believe that this tourist season will be more relaxed as a result of the attacks against the chain of infections,” Rama told journalists after touring the vaccination center at the square.
Foreign tourists coming to Albania won’t be required to show proof that they’ve been inoculated with a coronavirus vaccine.
Albania has registered more than 123,000 coronavirus cases and 2,204 confirmed deaths as of Saturday, according to health authorities.