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UPDATE 1-Serbia sees production of Sputnik V by the year-end - president

* Serbia so far vaccinated 530,000 people - president

* Serbia wants to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine - president (Adds details)

BELGRADE, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Serbia will invest as much as necessary to start domestic production of Russia’s Sputnik V by the end of the year, President Aleksandar Vucic told Reuters on Friday.

A group of Russian experts is expected to visit Serbia next week for talks about local production of the Sputnik V vaccine by the end of the year.

Vucic said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had reached an initial agreement about the launch of the production procedure which he described as “complicated and difficult.”

With over 530,000 people, or around 7.5% of its population, inoculated against COVID-19, Serbia globally holds the fourth highest vaccination rate per 100 people, behind Israel, Britain and the United States.

Under the state vaccination programme, Serbians can currently choose between shots from Pfizer Inc-BioNTech, , China’s Sinopharm or Russia’s Sputnik V.

“At the moment we do not have (production) capacities (for Sputnik V) but we will build it. It does not matter how much it will cost, we will invest,” he said.

So far, coronavirus has infected 402,700 and killed 4,085 people in Serbia, bringing its health system to the verge of collapse. The rate of infection has subsided in recent weeks, but thousands remain hospitalised.

Vucic said Serbia would aim to produce Sputnik V not only for its own needs but also for export throughout the region.

The Balkan country expects to get 200,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine this month, 500,000 Sinopharm vaccines, around 90,000 doses developed by Pfizer Inc-BioNTech and “first quantities from over 100,000 shots” produced by AstraZeneca .

“The Chinese vaccine is the most expensive one,” Vucic said.

Profiting from its close ties with China which invested billions in the Balkan country, Serbia was one of the first European countries to begin mass-inoculation with 1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine it purchased so far.

“I am thankful to President Xi for that,” Vucic said. “I have been reading reports about quality of vaccines and I have realised that the Chinese is a very good one,” Vucic said.

Vucic said that the country will spend between 200-300 million euros or up to 0.7 percent of its gross domestic product this year to purchase enough vaccines. (Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; editing by David Evans)

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