A medical worker holds a syringe containing the Gam-COVID-Vac (Sputnik V) Covid-19 vaccine.
Alexander Reka | TASS | Getty Images
As the European Union struggles to promote its vaccination of coronavirus vaccines in the 27-member bloc, the Russian Covid shot is an attraction for its friends in Eastern Europe, creating a potential rift in the region.
The Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia have all shown interest in acquiring and implementing Russia’s “Sputnik V” vaccine, a move that could undermine the approach to the approval and administration of coronavirus vaccines.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Sunday that his country can use the Sputnik V vaccine, even without the approval of the EU Medicines Agency, the European Medicines Agency.
This comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had a call last Friday discussing ‘possible supplies of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Austria, as well as its possible joint production’. said the Kremlin, noting that Austria had started the call. However, Austria has so far indicated that it will not circumvent the EMA in terms of vaccine approval.
Hungary, a country within the EU that has hampered relations with Brussels and whose leader, Viktor Orban, is seen as a close ally of Putin, has not shown such reluctance. It became the first European country to approve in January – to circumvent the EMA – and buy the Sputnik V vaccine.
According to the Times, the country expects two million doses of Sputnik V vaccine to be provided over the next three months, according to the Moscow Times. Hungary also approved China’s Sinopharm vaccine last month, which goes against the grain again when it comes to EU approval.
On Monday, Slovakia became the second European country to announce the purchase of the Sputnik V vaccine, 2 million doses of the shot to ensure. Slovakia’s health minister has said it will not be administered immediately as it still requires the green light from the country’s national drug regulator.
A Slovak army aircraft carrying doses of the Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus (Covid-19) is on the tarmac with arrival from Moscow at Kosice International Airport in Slovakia on March 1, 2021.
PETER LAZAR | AFP | Getty Images
What is happening?
The pivot in the direction of Russia’s vaccine comes amid widespread frustration over the slow pace of EU vaccination. This was hampered by the block’s decision to buy vaccines jointly, and the orders come later than other countries, including the UK and the US.
Production issues and bureaucracy – and for some countries, the reluctance of vaccine – are also an obstacle to deployment.
Nevertheless, the move by some Eastern European countries to unilaterally endorse Russia’s vaccine will increase the cracks in Brussels, as it undermines the EU’s desire for a uniform approach and a sense of fairness in the distribution of vaccines.
There was also particular concern about Sputnik V, although subsequent data supported the efficacy and credibility of the vaccine.
The vaccine was approved by the Russian health regulator in August last year before clinical trials were completed, which led to expertise that may not meet strict safety and efficacy standards. Some experts have argued that the Kremlin is eager to win the race to develop a Covid vaccine.
Interim analysis of phase 3 clinical trials of the shot, involving 20,000 participants and published in peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet in in early February found that the vaccine was 91.6% effective against symptomatic Covid-19 infection.
In an accompanying article in the Lancet, Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading, England, noted that ‘the development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticized for insignificant haste. But the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is being demonstrated, meaning that another vaccine could now compete to reduce the incidence of Covid-19. “
However, the Gamaleya National Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, which developed the vaccine, has not yet submitted an application to the EMA for the marketing of the vaccine. said the EU Drugs Agency in early February.
A woman receives the second component of the Gam-COVID-Vac (Sputnik V) COVID-19 vaccine.
Valentin Sprinchak | TASS | Getty Images
RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund that supported the development of Sputnik V, told OilGasJobz on Monday that it had applied to the EU Drug Agency in mid-February for an ongoing review of the vaccine. However, the EMA did not confirm this, and OilGasJobz asked the EMA for comment.
The European Commission had already warned Hungary, albeit indirectly, against the use of Russia’s vaccine before the EMA approved it. Back in November, a Commission spokesman told Reuters that “the question arises as to whether a Member State wishes to administer a vaccine that has not been reviewed by the EMA to its citizens,” adding that public confidence in the vaccination could be damaged.
“This is where the authorization process and the trust of the vaccine meet. If our citizens started questioning the safety of a vaccine, it would not have done careful scientific evaluation to prove its safety and effectiveness, it is much more difficult to a sufficient the population, “the spokesman said, reports Reuters.
However, Hungary’s decision to go it alone when it comes to the Sputnik V vaccine is not surprising to EU viewers. The country’s right-wing leader, Viktor Orban – of the “strongman” type similar to Russia’s Putin – has had several disputes with the EU’s executive over the past few years, particularly over signs of the government’s growing authoritarianism. The erosion of judicial independence and freedom of the press in Hungary is of particular importance to the EU. However, the Hungarian government rejects such criticism.
Gustav Gressel, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told OilGasJobz on Monday that Hungary’s actions were ‘part of Orban’s campaign for a’ decadent, declining EU ‘and Hungary’s future in the East, with Russia and China, to propagate, a trend according to him it has been going on for some time.
Meanwhile, Daragh McDowell, Europe’s chief and Russia’s chief analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, described the geopolitics surrounding Sputnik V and the EU as ‘political theater more than anything else’.
“For Hungary and Austria, an element of foreign policy-making is involved here, as both Kurz and Orban generally had a closer relationship with Putin than their European counterparts. In the case of the Czech Republic, the impetus seems to be more to to demonstrate that the government is’ doing something ‘in the face of a rapid increase in the number of cases in February,’ he said.
There are also doubts as to whether Russia has the capability to supply its Sputnik V vaccine to Europe on a larger scale.
“While the Sputnik vaccine appears to be an effective vaccine, Russia is having great difficulty getting mass production right … there is still not enough Sputnik vaccine being produced,” Gressel said. McDowell noted that “the question is whether Sputnik V can make a noticeable difference, given regulatory issues and existing logistical problems, and whether the vaccine can be produced in sufficient quantities by Russian producers or under license.”