BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania shipped its first donation of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to neighbouring Moldova on Saturday to allow Moldova to start vaccinating frontline medical workers next week.
Moldova and neighbouring Ukraine, two of Europe’s poorest countries, have lagged behind the rest of the continent in the scramble for vaccines and welcomed donations from friendly governments.
In December, Romania’s centrist president, Klaus Iohannis, said Bucharest would donate 200,000 doses of vaccine to Moldova, in a gesture of solidarity following the election of the pro-Western President Maia Sandu.
A former World Bank economist, Sandu defeated the pro-Moscow incumbent Igor Dodon in a presidential election, promising to fight endemic corruption and put Moldova’s relations with the European Union back on track.
The eastern European country of 3.5 million, where the West and Russia vie for influence, has been rocked in recent years by instability and corruption scandals, including the disappearance of $1 billion from the banking system.
“Romania keeps its promise … Today we deliver the first doses, 21,600 of AstraZeneca,” Romania’s Prime Minister Florin Citu wrote on his Facebook page. “It is the first batch of the 200,000 total that we offer as humanitarian aid. The rest will follow in the coming months.”
Sandu led a delegation to receive the vaccines at Chisinau airport as they arrived in a red air ambulance plane from Romania, which has close historical, linguistic and cultural ties to Moldova.
“Thank you, Romania! Thank you, European Union!” she wrote in a statement on Facebook.
Moldova’s vaccine procurement has stirred a domestic political row as Dodon accused Sandu of trying to block the entry of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Sandu’s office denied doing so.
The government said this week it expects a first shipment of vaccines under the global COVAX scheme for poorer countries to arrive in Moldova by March 3.
Editing by Christina Fincher and Matthias Williams