EU’s vaccine scramble may force bloc to lean on Russia’s ‘hybrid weapon’ Sputnik V jab

Sputnik V vaccine: Scientists in Russia start production in August

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Brussels has been humiliated over its slow coronavirus vaccine rollout and its ongoing issues with vaccine supplies. The delay can be traced back to the EU’s drawn-out negotiation process with vaccine developers, which meant the bloc was pushed to the back of the queue for the jabs with several pharmaceutical giants. AstraZeneca said it could not reach the EU’s requested quota for the vaccine because Brussels signed a contract months after Britain — meaning the UK had priority over its limited supplies.

Moderna’s CEO made a similar complaint about the bloc’s indecision last year — then just last minute, the developer announced that it would not be able to provide the huge quantity of vaccines the EU had initially hoped for either.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine also experienced delays with its rollout across the bloc last month.

As it scrambles for a solution, commentators are wondering if the EU may look to utilise the vaccine developed in Russia — despite the underlying international tensions.

The EU member state of Hungary has already given the green light to Russia’s vaccine, Sputnik V, and has started to discuss a shipment and distribution deal with Moscow.

Hungarian representatives have even travelled to Beijing to discuss sending an immediate delivery of one million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said looking to these nations was the only way his nation could satisfy the demand for vaccination, because of the “frustratingly” slow delivery of the Pfzier vaccine.

Fellow member state, the Czech Republic, is also seriously considering the Russian vaccine as well, in order to get ahead in the ongoing vaccine race.

Germany’s Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn has hinted that Germany may follow suit and consider buying supplies of Sputnik V as well.

He said: “Regardless of the country in which a vaccine is manufactured, if they are safe and effective, they can help with the pandemic.”

However, there are concerns over how the underlying tensions between the EU and Russia might affect access to the Sputnik V.

The international strain became painfully obvious earlier this month when the EU’s Foreign Affairs High Representative, Josep Borrell, visited Moscow.

Discussing the trip, he explained that the “fraught state” of EU-Russia relations has been “low for a number of years” and deteriorated further in the wake of the sentencing of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political opponent, Alexei Navalny.

In a blog post published for the EU, he said: “An aggressively-staged press conference and the expulsion of three EU diplomats during my visit indicate that the Russia authorities did not want to seize this opportunity to have a more constructive dialogue with the EU.”

He also claimed: “It seems that Russia is progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat.”

However, he also said Russia’s vaccine was “good for mankind” — making it unclear if he would support introducing Sputnik V into the EU.

Former Washington aide and commentator, Peter Rough, told Express.co.uk examined how any attempts of vaccine diplomacy may be overshadowed by this political unease.

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He said that Mr Borrell’s trip to Moscow was “a disaster” with an especially “embarrassing press conference”.

He claimed: “The Russian-EU relationship is, at best, transactional now. There is no hope of a reset.”

Mr Rough concluded: “I would be surprised if the Chinese or the Russian vaccines ended up in the EU.”

Indeed, Sputnik V has divided the international audience — Ukraine has banned the vaccine, and dubbed it a “hybrid weapon on Ukraine against Russia”.

European Union facing internal 'battle' over vaccines says MEP

Additionally, European Commission sources told EURACTIV.com: “For the time being, it’s not really on the radar.

“In order to be part of the EU vaccination programme, manufacturers need to have production capacity in EU territory to exactly make sure we have independence.”

But, the source also claimed that the vaccine is not a political issue as long as this jab has scientific endorsement by the European Medicines Agency.

Melchoir Szcepanik, an analyst from the Polish Institute of International Affairs, explained: “If the Russian vaccine was approved by the EMA and thus could be used by the member states, then it would be an important image success for Russia and it is almost certain that Russia would try to somehow translate it into concrete benefits.”

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