BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The Czech Republic may consider using vaccines not yet registered in the EU to speed up inoculations, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Friday, on a trip to Hungary which has given emergency approval to Russian and Chinese vaccines.
He said he had also spoken about the issue with German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, who he said wanted Russian or Chinese vaccines to be given European approval.
European Union countries’ governments are facing a reckoning over vaccination programmes that have lagged far behind the United States and former EU member Britain.
Hungary so far is the only EU member to have given emergency use approval to Chinese and Russian vaccines. Other EU countries have followed the European regulator EMA, which has so far approved only three vaccines from Western companies.
“I have spoken about the Russian vaccine, and about the Chinese vaccine, with Chancellor Merkel, and the chancellor as well as the Bavarian prime minister are unambiguously calling for this vaccine to be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA),” Babis said after meeting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“Now of course the issue is whether the producer asks for the approval or not, and we of course want to consider, if we get hold of the vaccine, to go the similar way as Hungary did because time is of essence.”
Babis did not respond to a request for further comment. Prior to his trip to Budapest, he said he aimed to discuss Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine with Orban.
Czech authorities had until Friday insisted on EMA clearance for any vaccine to be used in the country.
Peer-reviewed late-stage trial results of Sputnik V published in The Lancet international medical journal this week showed it was almost 92% effective in fighting COVID-19.
Russia has shared data from its Phase III trial with regulators in several countries and has begun the process of submitting it to the EMA for approval in the European Union.
China has produced two vaccines, from Sinopharm and Sinovac, and has been exporting millions of doses of each of them around the world, mainly to developing countries.
The Czech Republic has suffered one of the world’s highest infection and death rates, with 16,976 deaths in the population of 10.7 million.
It has so far administered 327,759 vaccine doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, mostly to citizens over the age of 80 and health workers, and expects the first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines on Saturday.
Reporting by Gergely Szakacs in Budapest, Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller in Prague
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