Germany mulls possible order of Russian COVID-19 vaccine

By GEIR MOULSON
Updated: April 08, 2021 09:00 AM
Created: April 08, 2021 07:53 AM

BERLIN (AP) - Germany's health minister said Thursday that the European Union doesn't plan to order Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine but his country will hold talks with Russia on whether an individual order makes sense.

The EU's executive Commission said Wednesday it won't place orders for Sputnik V on member countries' behalf, as it did with other manufacturers, Health Minister Jens Spahn told WDR public radio.

Spahn said he told his fellow EU health ministers that Germany, which has strongly backed joint EU orders, "will talk bilaterally to Russia, first of all about when it could come and in what quantities." He said that, "to really make a difference in our current situation, the deliveries would have to come in the next two to four or five months already."

Otherwise, he said, Germany would have "more than enough vaccine" already.

Amid a slow start to the vaccine rollout in Germany and across the EU, there have been calls from some German politicians - particularly at state level - to order Sputnik V. Spahn said he wanted to end the "abstract debate" by getting concrete details of what is possible.

Elsewhere in the EU, Hungary in February became the first country in the bloc to start using Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm vaccine, neither of which has been approved by the EU's medicines regulator.

The government of Slovakia collapsed after its former prime minister orchestrated a secret deal to buy 2 million Sputnik V doses, despite disagreements with his coalition partners.

And Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria has said his country is in the closing stages of talks to possibly secure doses of Sputnik V. He has left open whether Austria could authorize its use before the EU approves it.

In Germany itself, two state governments are pushing ahead with tentative plans to secure doses of the Russian vaccine.

On Wednesday, Bavaria's governor said his administration was signing a preliminary contract with a company in the southern German state that would allow it to get 2.5 million doses of Sputnik V, probably in July, if the shot is cleared by the European Medicines Agency.

On Thursday, the health minister of the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Harry Glawe, said his state had secured an option for a million doses. He argued that "we are currently still in a phase in which there is great dependency on too few manufacturers," news agency dpa reported.

Spahn underscored the German government's position that, to be deployed in the country, Sputnik V must be cleared for use by the EMA and "for that, Russia must deliver data." The EU regulator started a rolling review of the vaccine in early March.

Meanwhile, a top EU official indicated that he's skeptical about rushing into orders for the Russian or Chinese vaccines.

Thierry Breton, a member of the EU executive who heads the Commission's vaccine task force, said in a blog entry that he has "no reason to doubt the potential effectiveness, safety and quality of vaccines developed outside of the EU" but that is for the EMA to assess.

"Whenever I have been asked to comment on these vaccines, I have done so from an industrial perspective: Can they add to Europe's portfolio of vaccines and add to our summer 2021 immunity target?" Breton wrote.

"I'm afraid the answer is no."

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