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In Torlak we (would) trust: domestic vaccine production in contemporary Serbia


Throughout the era of socialist Yugoslavia, the Institute of Virology, Vaccines and Sera ‘Torlak’ in Belgrade was a well known producer and exporter of vaccines. After the dissolution of the country, it gradually lost its significance in both global and domestic vaccine markets. However, in Serbian public discourse, Torlak’s vaccines are still remembered as of the highest quality. Many people would willingly vaccinate themselves or their children with Torlak’s vaccines. But how do overly positive Yugoslav vaccination experiences influence vaccination narratives in contemporary postsocialist Serbia? To answer this question, I analysed electronic word of mouth from 2005 until 2020 from Serbia’s main daily news sources. Public narratives on Torlak’s vaccine production seem to be a local response and a consequence of global changes in the international vaccine market. Furthermore, this study shows that public calls for the revival of Torlak’s vaccine production are part of wider public yearning for ‘normal life’ in postsocialist Serbia. In this respect, positive memories of Torlak vaccines do not serve as a strategy for dealing with the past. As a special form of Yugo-nostalgia and as a ‘material embodiment’ of normal life under socialism, narratives represent a strategy for dealing with the present: a therapy for dealing with the ‘abnormality’ of life in today’s Serbia. Contemporary public vaccination attitudes are shaped both by collective memory of the production and administration of Torlak’s vaccines in socialist Yugoslavia, and by narratives on Torlak’s unfavourable current position. They also reflect wider opinions, hopes and yearning for the restoration of the country’s political, health and economic institutions.

  • social anthropology
  • medical anthropology
  • popular media
  • medical humanities

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article. The author obtained the data from daily and weekly Serbian press available online.

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