Czech Republic turns to Russian vaccine amid soaring COVID cases

Prime Minister Andrej Babis says hard-hit country cannot wait for EU approval for Russia’s Sputink V shot.

Russia's Sputnik V has not been approved by the European Union medicines regulator EMA [File: Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

The 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 ranked among the world’s worst-hit countries by the COVID pandemic in the past few weeks, with soaring numbers of infections and deaths, as the situation has been exacerbated by the new variants of the virus.

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,” he said.

Zeman 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.

“We cannot wait for EMA, when Russia has not applied (for approval),” Babis said on CNN Prima News. He said the approval by Czech drugs authority, SUKL, would suffice.

“SUKL must examine the documentation and if they approve it, the Health Ministry has to issue an exemption… and then, whoever is interested, can get inoculated,” he said.

Babis and Zeman have already received both jabs of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

Separately, Babis said the government will discuss on Monday whether to introduce compulsory COVID-19 testing at the country’s largest companies. The announcement came after the government imposed stricter restrictions in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The seven-day average of new daily infections in the Czech Republic reached 1,383 per million people on Saturday, the highest infection rate in the world, according to data from Our World in Data.

Babis said on Sunday that his minority government will discuss whether to require companies with at least 250 employees to test their workers for COVID-19 or face a fine of up to 500,000 crowns ($23,077.63), to be effective from March 5.

During the first wave of COVID-19 in the Czech Republic last spring, some companies temporarily closed down, which contributed to a record contraction of the economy in the second quarter.

But the latest wave has led to a higher number of people in a serious condition due to COVID-19 and some hospitals have been forced to transfer patients hundreds of miles due to a lack of capacity.

Around one in 10 Czechs have been infected by the coronavirus in the past year, and the death toll has risen to 20,339 from about 600 five months ago.

Source: News Agencies