Sian MacLeod

Sian MacLeod

UK Ambassador to Serbia

Part of UK in Serbia

8th February 2021 Belgrade, Serbia

Boycie and Baldrick Get a Shot in the Arm

In this strangest of years, international cooperation has taken on a different aspect.   Border closures, quarantine and testing regimes have never before been part of my daily diplomatic vocabulary. Though as a well travelled diplomat vaccination has long played a small but important part in my professional life. 


The world faces a common challenge that affects each country in ways that are both  similar and different, as waves of infection hit us on different cycles and with differing intensities, It has been a year of global and national learning as we try to find the best responses to protect people and safeguard livelihoods.


My host country Serbia has lately been investing and innovating in the sphere of digital delivery of public services.  The UK through our Good Governance Fund helped with some of this. My favourite is the e-Bebe system for online registration of new born babies. But we also supported important projects that will improve transparency and the business environment.


Ana Brnabic’s Government can rightly be proud of their latest digitalisation project, an  e-vaccine registration portal that allows people to register to be vaccinated, express a preference for which vaccine, and await a call when they become eligible for their first dose.


My own country has gone through a pretty terrible 10 months with the pandemic.  

We can though celebrate the amazing success of the Oxford Vaccine Group with the development of the AstraZeneca vaccine that is being distributed around the world on a not for profit basis.  We can be very proud of our world leading genomics researchers working to identify mutations of the COVID-19 coronavirus. And we are fantastically proud of our National Health Service, and all the staff performing superhuman feats to care for others, sadly sometimes sacrificing their own health or lives.  


There is a similar picture in many countries.  I know how painfully Serbia has felt the loss of medical professionals to COVID.  


In my previous blogcast I talked about the 332 days between publication of the genetic sequence of the COVID-19 virus and the first vaccinations being given in the UK.  I am in absolute awe of Sarah Gilbert and the Oxford scientists, as well as other research teams around the world working at break neck speed to catch up with and overtake the pandemic. 


The challenge of vaccinating the world is not only a scientific one though, but also a logistical one. How to produce new vaccines on the vast scale needed.  How to distribute them safely. How to prioritise most effectively to reduce serious illness and pressures on healthcare services. 


People and governments around the world have been understandably impatient to get access to as many doses of vaccine as quickly as possible.  Those impatient people include me.  I have been anxious to know when diplomatic colleagues in vulnerable countries or with jobs that put them at particular risk might be vaccinated. As head of a large diplomatic mission I will be relieved when the turn comes around for each member of my staff, and for their families,  to forward to their first jab.  


I will also be watching eagerly to see the impact of vaccine roll out on the infection graphs here and at home. 


After talking about statistics in my last blogcast I intended to avoid including too many numbers in this one.  But the figures are staggering. At my time of writing 124 million doses of vaccine have already been given around the world.  In the UK alone now we have given over 12 million vaccinations or, I think, enough to include most of our population over the age of 70.


(Fans of classic British television comedy will be glad to know that these numbers include both Boycie and Baldrick, though it’s hard to believe that either of these ageless characters  are in that age group!)


Serbia and the UK are both high in the league tables for successful roll out of vaccination to our own population. But we both know that in a globalised world there is little point only looking after ourselves. 


There was very good news on that front last week, that is to say, on international vaccine distribution. 190 countries, including the UK, Serbia and its Western Balkan neighbours, are cooperating on global vaccine distribution through COVAX which is due to start delivering vaccines in the next few weeks.   


COVAX is a mechanism specially set up in cooperation with GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance founded by the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, and UNICEF).  As a British taxpayer I cannot think of a better use for over half a billion pounds of international development assistance and, as a British diplomat, I’m really proud that the UK Government is the largest national contributor


Those 190 participating countries between them will receive a total of at least 2 billion doses of vaccine. Well over half these doses are ‘donor funded’, meaning that 92 of the world’s poorest economies will be helped to vaccinate their people, mostly with AstraZeneca vaccines, but also with BioNTech-Pfizer.


I said at the outset that my blogcasts would be about diplomats, diplomacy and things that matter to me as a diplomat. It’s no accident that I have now twice in a row written about COVID and vaccines.  Right now, they fulfil all three criteria.  They are the top current priority for many of us and are likely to stay so over coming weeks and months. 


Although as diplomats we always have to be prepared for real world events that can throw our plans off course, we do aim to plan and operate strategically. 


When I finish recording this blogcast I need turn my attention back to the process of business planning.  This means, agreeing my Embassy’s priorities with Ministers in London, setting out what we want to achieve in the coming year and explaining why I need the resources to match those ambitions. 


Looking back to this time twelve months ago, we could hardly have guessed what the year ahead had in store for us.


This year, with a little help from those shots in the arm, I hope things will be a little more straightforward!

About Sian MacLeod

Sian Macleod was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia in September 2019. Prior to this, Sian was Ambassador and Head of the UK Delegation to the Organization…

Sian Macleod was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia in September 2019. Prior to this, Sian was Ambassador and Head of the UK Delegation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Sian joined the FCO in 1986. Her first posting was to Moscow. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, she served briefly in the Embassy in Vilnius. Since then she has been posted to The Hague, returned to Moscow 2004-7, where she became Minister (Deputy Head of Mission). Between overseas postings she has worked in the FCO and the Cabinet Office.

Sian was Ambassador in Prague from 2009 to 2013 and then Director of the British Council Triennial Review and FCO Additional Director for the Eastern European & Central Asian Directorate.

Sian is married to Richard Robinson and they have three children and enjoy music, cycling and cross-country skiing.

Before joining the FCO she studied music at the Winchester School of Art and the Royal Academy of Music.