Moldova approves Russia's Sputnik V vaccine as political row simmers

(This FEB. 26 story corrects throughout to make clear that Sandu’s office did not deny the Sputnik V vaccine had been approved)

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist holds a vial of Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus in a department store in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2021 REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova’s medicines agency on Friday approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine while President Maia Sandu was accused by her Moscow-friendly predecessor Igor Dodon of blocking Sputnik’s use in the country, which Sandu’s office denied.

Moldova’s Medicines and Medical Devices Agency authorised two vaccines registered for emergency use by the World Health Organization - Pfizer/BioNTech, and a shot developed by Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca - as well as Sputnik V.

Moldova and neighbouring Ukraine have lagged behind wealthier European countries in securing coronavirus vaccines.

Dodon and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets the Sputnik vaccine abroad, said that Moldova had become the 38th country, including Russia, to register the shot.

Dodon has been a thorn in Sandu’s side since she triumphed in a November election. Sandu, who favours closer relations with the European Union, has accused parliament, which is dominated by lawmakers aligned with Dodon, of trying to sabotage her presidency and curb her power.

“Deliveries of the vaccine to Moldova will start very soon,” Dodon wrote on his Telegram channel. “I would like to mention that the successful registration of the vaccine in our country took place despite the efforts of the Moldovan president’s office to block it.”

Sandu’s press secretary Sorina Stefirta, speaking before the Moldovan medicines agency’s announcement that the three vaccines had been approved, said that the country would not exclude using any vaccine whose use was approved by the WHO.

“My statement to the media about the position of President Maia Sandu that vaccines will be used in Moldova after they are authorized by the WHO was made in response to Dodon’s statement that the presidential administration is preventing the registration of Sputnik-V,” Stefirta said in a subsequent statement to Reuters.

“It was not a reaction to the registration of Sputnik by the medicines agency,” Stefirta said.

“The presidential administration does not interfere with the activities of the medicines agency,” Stefirta added.

Sputnik’s status is still in review at the WHO, according to data as of Feb 24.

Reporting by Alexander Tanas in CHISINAU and Alexander Marrow in MOSCOW; additional reporting by Polina Ivanova and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by David Goodman and Giles Elgood