Can cash distributions stop Serbia’s immunization decline?
Serbia is offering cash payments to people who receive a Covid-19 vaccine before May 31 to boost its failing vaccination campaign.
Unlike other countries in the Western Balkans, Serbia has fully embraced the concept of cash distributions – known locally as ‘helicopter money’ – as a way to address the economic downturn caused by the restrictive measures needed to contain the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Now he is using the money from the helicopters to increase the number of vaccines.
Considered by some economists as wasteful, the country persists nonetheless. The latest in the series of government stimuli is a payment of 3,000 Serbian dinars (around 25.50 euros), offered to anyone over the age of 16 who gets stung before May 31.
Last year every Serbian citizen over the age of 18 received 100 euros from the state. This year, government support is less generous. Serbs who apply will receive 30 euros in May and an additional 30 euros in November. Retirees can expect an additional 50 euros, to be paid by the end of the year.
Impressive vaccination campaign fails
The deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine in Serbia has been impressive, but has failed in recent weeks. The country began its mass vaccination campaign long before its neighbors, in December 2020. At the start of the pandemic, the Serbian government decided not to rely solely on the global COVAX facility but to seek alternative sources of vaccines, including Chinese Sinopharm and Russian Sputnik V jabs.
Serbia in principle offers its citizens the choice of which vaccine they receive, but due to availability, most have been vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine.
As of May 5 – the most recent data available – some 3,661,516 doses of various vaccines had been administered and 1,604,760 people had received both doses. This in a country of seven million inhabitants.
But lately the vaccination rate has dropped. The authorities now hope that the offer of 3,000 Serbian dinars will accelerate the pace.
“We want to motivate people to get vaccinated so that we can resume normal life as soon as possible,” said Finance Minister Siniša Mali.
It’s still too early to say if the incentive will have an effect: the payouts were announced on May 5 and the real money won’t be released until June 12.
But the popularity of other stimulus packages may be an indicator that paying people to get tricked has its merits. According to an Instagram post from the Serbian Ministry of Finance, more than 3.5 million people had requested the payment on May 7.
Vouchers for jabs
Over the past weekend, hundreds of people flocked to the Ušće shopping center in Belgrade where a day center was organized for people to get bitten without having to make an appointment. Deputy Mayor Goran Vesić was present along with turbo-folk singer Jelena Karleuša who, apparently reversing her previous anti-vaccine stance, decided to get the vaccine in public view.
More importantly, perhaps, there were vouchers for those who showed up early, funded by the city government.
However, not everyone is happy with all this helicopter money. While the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Labor Organization last year praised Serbia’s stimulus policies, the country’s fiscal council, an independent government organization, spoke out against the measures. .
They did it again on May 5, claiming that “the non-selective distribution of funds to all citizens or pensioners of age is a bad economic measure which should be abandoned for good”.
They add that, together, the stimuli of last year and that will amount to more than a billion euros: money that the government had to borrow.
According to the budget council, the money might have been better spent investing in infrastructure and other projects that can impact inequalities and living standards in the long run.
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