Germany to contact Russia about Sputnik Covid-19 jabs: Minister

Keen German interest in the Russian vaccine comes amid a slow inoculation rollout. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BERLIN (AFP) - The German government plans to talk to Moscow about buying doses of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine if it is approved by European regulators, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday (April 8).

Mr Spahn told public broadcaster WDR that Germany was prepared to go it alone, without the European Union, if it meant the country could speed up its inoculation campaign.

"The EU Commission said yesterday that it will not sign contracts (for Sputnik) like for other manufacturers - such as BioNTech, for example - so I said for Germany in the meeting of EU health ministers that we will hold bilateral talks with Russia," he said.

The announcement comes one day after German state Bavaria said it had signed a letter of intent to buy up to 2.5 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine if it is approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). In addition to the option of importing the vaccine from Russia, a production facility is also to be set up by the pharmaceutical company R-Pharm in the town of Illertissen.

Keen German interest in the Russian vaccine comes amid a slow inoculation roll-out, now a lightning rod issue as Germany grapples with a fierce third wave of the pandemic. Only 13 per cent of the population has received its first of two doses, as the country reported more than 20,000 new infections on Thursday and over 300 deaths in the previous 24 hours.

The German government said last month it would be open to using Sputnik V if the EMA gives it the green light.

The EMA has launched a rolling review of Sputnik V, which could become the first non-Western coronavirus vaccine used across the 27-nation bloc. It has faced criticism in some Western countries, however, and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has accused Russia and China of using their vaccines to gain influence abroad.

Russia registered Sputnik V in August ahead of large-scale clinical trials, prompting concern among experts over the fast-track process. But later reviews have been largely positive, with the medical journal The Lancet publishing results showing it was safe and more than 90 per cent effective.

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