Czech Republic turns to Russian jabs after EU delays
The hard-hit Czech Republic has requested a batch of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine while awaiting delayed EU-procured shots, the president said Sunday, adding that Prague will also consider seeking Chinese jabs.
The EU member has the world’s highest infection rate per 100,000 people over the last 14 days and is second only to neighbouring Slovakia in per capita deaths, according to an AFP tally.
The vaccination rollout has been slower than expected with only 650,000 jabs administered since December in the country of 10.7 million people, which Czech politicians blame on slow procurement by the EU.
“After consulting the prime minister, I have sent a letter to (Russian President) Vladimir Putin, asking him for a supply of the Sputnik vaccine,” President Milos Zeman said on TV Prima.
“Information from the Russian embassy suggests it could arrive in the next few days,” said the pro-Russian, pro-Chinese leader.
He said he would also welcome China’s Sinopharm vaccine in the country that has recorded over 1.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and more than 20,000 deaths, arguing that “vaccines have no ideology”.
Czechs have shown mistrust towards the vaccines on social networks, driven by their experience with low-quality Soviet-made goods shipped to their country during four decades of Communism in 1948-89.
Neither Sputnik V nor Sinopharm have been approved by the European Union regulator EMA, unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines currently used in the Czech Republic.
But Zeman and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said they would not wait for the EMA to give the green light.
“All we need is a stamp from the (Czech) State Office for Drug Control,” said Babis, who visited Hungary and Serbia earlier this month to learn about the two vaccines.
“Sixty-five countries in the world want the Russian vaccine, including six EU countries, so why say, ‘Jesus, it’s terrible’?” Babis said.
“Believe me when I say that EU member states will also be asking for Sputnik in a few months,” added the billionaire populist, who — like Zeman — has already received both jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
The Czech Republic’s western neighbour Germany said Sunday it would ship 15,000 vaccines to Prague on Monday, without specifying the type.
Babis said the German consignment, which follows the supply of 5,000 Moderna doses from Israel and the promise of 100,000 Pfizer/BioNTech doses by France, should comprise AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines.