Covid-19: should Czechia follow Hungary’s lead and buy Russia's vaccine Sputnik V?

Photo: ČTK/Luboš Pavlíček

The vaccination of vulnerable groups against Covid-19 is taking longer than anticipated in part due to production bottlenecks. Some politicians and health experts are calling on the Czech government to buy supplies from companies not party to the European Union collective agreement.

To date, the EU has only approved two vaccines, one by Pfizer and BioNTech, and the other by Moderna. However, the European Commission is negotiating intensely to build a diversified portfolio of vaccines and concluded contracts have been with AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson, and CureVac.

While Minister of Health Jan Blatný has said the Czech government has no plans to go outside the EU framework to secure vaccines, in principle he has no objections to buying Russia or India once they have undergone EU testing.

In the meantime, Blatný’s predecessor, the epidemiologist Roman Prymula and others say that given production bottlenecks of EU-approved vaccines, the country should consider other sources, as has Hungary, the first country in the bloc to buy the Russian-made vaccine Sputnik V.

Speaking on the Czech Radio debate programme ‘Pros and Cons’, Prymula, who though no longer health minister remains an advisor to Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, argues that following Hungary’s lead may be more costly – as the EU can secure lower prices as a bloc – but also necessary.

Andrej Babiš,  Roman Prymula,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

“I don’t think there is any universal agreement on the best way forward. In any case, while the EU is looking to secure vaccine doses for the long run, companies are not meeting the conditions of contracts they have signed.

“This means individual EU states have the absolute right to conclude sub-contracts outside of the global contract. In essence, the EU has said what Hungary did is improper not illegal. And so the Czech Republic should also consider how to obtain quality vaccines for ourselves.

“Within the global contract, unfortunately it is stipulated that outside of the EU framework we cannot negotiate unilaterally with the drugmakers… If we want to get more vaccines, we have to find another way, like the Hungarian model. Sputnik V does not yet have a centralized agreement with the EU, so we would not be violating anything if we got it individually.”

Speaking on the same debate programme, university lecturer Ondřej Dostál, a specialist in medical law, argues that while the Czech Republic would be within its rights to buys vaccine from Russia or China, doing so should be a last resort.

“The use of vaccines not approved by the EU, for example like Sputnik V, would be an emergency solution. Preference must go to enforcing the supply of registered vaccines according to concluded contracts. Only then should as-yet unapproved vaccines be considered.

“Unfortunately, the European collective agreement is secret. So, I cannot say whether the supply of registered vaccines is enforceable for example through sanctions. But if there are no vaccines, it would be appropriate for example to go the Hungarian way, that is, securing vaccines not yet approved by the EU, only for the Czech Republic.”