Thank you to our great subscriber Dana Klein for sharing. Dana’s friends, Noah and Anna (not their real names) write about their vaccination experience in Macedonia and Serbia.
Well, it's been quite a week... The COVID-19 news here in Macedonia just keeps getting worse and worse, with infection and death rates higher than ever. The "third wave" should crest within a matter of days, but the hospitals are already completely full.
The local newspaper reported that only 11,000 vaccine doses have been administered so far, exclusively to healthcare workers. Although there hasn't been a census in over 20 years, my guess is that there are between 1 million and 1.5 million people in Macedonia. So, 11,000 doses doesn't mean squat. And 33 deaths and 708 new cases JUST TODAY is huge.
On top of that, there seem to be absolutely no future vaccines for Macedonia at all. Sinopharm was the only vaccine manufacturer contracted by the government. They were to provide 200,000 doses, but withdrew from the deal after Macedonia's Health Minister attempted to purchase the vaccines through a shell company registered in American Samoa.
Waiting for Godot…
People WE KNOW are sick and are dying. And we were becoming more and more anxious.
About a month ago, we registered to be vaccinated in Serbia. We were hopeful until the case rate spiked. Then the Serbs nicely wrote us, saying there was no chance of getting a vaccination anytime soon.
We also tried to register in France, but we couldn't even get on the list there. The rollout throughout Europe has been glacial, with France particularly slow.
Then we came up with the idea to fly to Miami Beach and try for vaccinations there. Why not? We're both US Citizens and ostensibly Miami Beach Residents. After a bit of research I found decent flights—using free miles. So we booked our trip and signed up on the Miami vaccination registry.
About five minutes after receiving flight confirmation, we got an email from the Serbian Ministry of Health inviting us to receive Astra-Zeneca vaccinations in Belgrade on Saturday at 2PM, with official QR codes and everything.
Quick like rabbits we booked a taxi to take us in 48 hours on a 5 hour trip to Belgrade and back... (Is this the moment to mention how boring the highway from Skopje to Belgrade is? Oh, kill me now...)
We were lucky to get early afternoon appointments. Those with morning appointments could not make it to Belgrade on time because of curfew. Macedonia refused to relax the curfew (10PM - 5 AM) for the purpose of traveling to Serbia to get vaccinated.
Let me say that again: Macedonia refused to relax the curfew for those traveling to Serbia to get vaccinated, thereby keeping Macedonians safe from the coronavirus? Are you kidding? I can't even begin...
Although our appointments were for 2PM, we got there at noon. It was a complete mob scene. Clearly the Serbians had things very well organized. But with schedules thrown into chaos owing to late arrivals, it was, well, chaos. Calm and very well organized, but just WAY too many people.
We had been waiting in the sun for two hours, not advancing far, when two women approached us. The first woman explained that the second woman, who the first woman didn't know and who would become our ally, had been standing in the wrong line and was a bit confused.
Anna, who can charm a cat out of a tree in perfect Serbian, said we would look after her, no problem. She seemed to be elderly (although later we discovered she was younger than me). She was indeed confused.
Anna, sensing an opportunity, took us all to the priority line and feigned that, as our friend was elderly and feeling poorly, we needed to jump the queue.
Not a problem at all, they said, and we were in! Probably saved us another two or three hours in line and the risk of breaking curfew on the way home.
From getting in the door it only took 20 minutes to sign in, chat with the doctor, register on the computer, and get vaccinated. They all spoke perfect English and were great.
Afterwards, we put our new best friend into a taxi and we hoofed it back to Skopje, arriving in time to have dinner on the terrace at our local restaurant before the evening curfew began.
The Next Day
Our official vaccination records arrived by e-mail the next morning before we woke up. And our new best friend sent a lovely message of gratitude.
Along with our appointments for Saturday, Anna's mother and sister received their appointments to be vaccinated Sunday. (We all registered at the same time, but could not get appointments on the same day.)
Coming back from her Sunday appointment in Belgrade, Anna's mother was asked at the border the purpose of her travel. She calmly explained that they were in a band: Anna's sister (who went with her and who also got vaccinated) was the lead singer, the driver (who also got vaccinated) was the guitarist, and she was the belly dancer.
This talent must run in the family... They were immediately waived through without any further questions.
So, HUGE gratitude to the Republic of Serbia for arranging for us to have FREE vaccinations, and for vaccinating more Macedonians in one weekend than the government of Macedonia has managed to vaccinate at all. And thanks to Anna for arranging it all and saving us hours in line.
We've rebooked our trip to Miami Beach to arrive later in April. And then to France in May. Second vaccination (somewhere) at the end of June... And still being very careful, of course.
Astra-Zeneca side effects? Sore arms near the injection and general blah—possibly due to 10 hours in the car plus two hours standing in line—so really nothing to complain about at all. Anna and I were exhausted from our adventure, but otherwise no problems.
Better days a comin'...