Covid-19: Czech president blames deaths on refusal to use Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine

Photo: ČTK/AP/Zoltan Mathe

President Miloš Zeman is calling for the county’s health minister and state drug agency director to be removed from office for rejecting the use of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, which has not yet received EU approval. In an interview on Wednesday, the Czech head of state also advocated not waiting for Brussels to act before using the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm.

The Czech Republic currently has the second-highest number of total Covid-19 deaths per million in the world. On average now, 200 people a day are dying of the virus. According to President Zeman, Minister of Health Jan Blatný and State Institute for Drug Control (SÚKL) director Irena Storová are directly to blame for not using the non-EU vaccines.

Miloš Zeman,  photo: ČTK / Kateřina Šulová

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) started its evaluation of the Russian vaccine on March 4. The process could take many months. In the absence of EMA approval, Minister Blatný is dead set against administering Sputnik V here, he told Czech Television. The same position was reached by the highest constitutional officials, including President Zeman, at a Prague Castle meeting in late February.

“I have nothing against Sputnik per se. I would only want it to be evaluated just as the other vaccines were, using the same process as any other vaccine, whether developed in France, Germany or the United States.”

Minister Blatný further noted that 1.5 million EU-certified vaccines doses – from Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna – have been delivered to the Czech Republic. By end-June, and so likely before the EMA finishes evaluating Sputnik V, there will be enough to fully vaccinate 75 percent of the adult population of 8 million.

Jan Blatný,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

State Institute for Drug Control director Irena Storová said that the Russian production and certification process is “quite unknown to us”, and the drug agency would require full documentation of every step.

“There is a list of medicines that must be registered by the EU. Among them are new drugs... It’s an ongoing process, and it’s not possible for a drug agency of an EU state to ‘register’ or ‘certify’ them on their own.”

Ms Storová notes that the Ministry of Health could ask the drug agency for an expert opinion to consider an exception for Sputnik V under to the Pharmaceuticals Act – a step that Slovakia and Italy are considering and that Hungary has already taken. But among Czech officials there has been no serious discussion about that, she said.

Meanwhile, a new Czech drug against Covid-19 is in the final stage of getting approval from the drug agency Ms Storová heads, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told journalists on Thursday morning, ahead of a trip to Israel to discuss that country’s vaccination strategy with his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu. He has said he had no plans to recall Minister Blatný.