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After months of controversy, Slovakia confirms Sputnik V vaccine rollout

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Bratislava, Slovakia – Slovakia will start offering the Russian-made Sputnik V anti-Covid vaccine next month, Health Minister Vladimir Lengvarsky said.

Slovakia to authorize use of Sputnik V, partially suspends AstraZeneca vaccine

“Within days, I will sign the consent for vaccination with Sputnik V,” M. Lengvarsky told reporters, adding that the Russian-made jab will be available for Slovaks between the ages of 18 and 60 starting June 1.

The announcement comes after months of a controversy that triggered a spiraling governmental crisis and forced then Prime Minister Igor Matovic to step down.

Last week, Slovak authorities also announced they would suspend the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine for first doses following the death of a 47-year-old woman which was, according to the State Institute for Drug Control (SUKL), likely connected to the jab.

The Sputnik V vaccine, which hasn’t been approved yet by the EU’s Medicines Agency, has caused controversy all around the bloc. While some have criticised the jab as an agent of Russian propaganda or “hybrid war tool”, others have seen the Russian-made vaccine as a welcome alternative to make up for the slow rollout of Western vaccines across the EU.

Sputnik V, a troublesome vaccine?

Slovakia is a case-study of how the Russian vaccine has sown division. The unilateral decision, at the start of March, by former Prime Minister Igor Matovic to sign a deal for the delivery of 2 million doses, ignoring the opposition of its coalition partners, caused an unprecedented crisis.

To defuse tensions and faced with a steep drop in popularity, Matovic stepped down as Prime Minister but stayed in government, merely switching positions with then Finance Minister and OLaNO partner Eduard Heger.

After taking office as the country’s new Prime Minister on April 1, M. Heger said he was still considering the authorization of the Russian vaccine, insisting “we do consider any vaccine as a means to fight the pandemic.”

There are a “vast amount of people who wouldn’t get vaccinated with anything else, just Sputnik,” the Slovak Premier added, pointing especially to people in their 50s and 60s who “have been vaccinated with [Russian] vaccines all [their] lives”.

Hungarian lab’s green-light paves the way for Slovakia rollout

According to recent studies, up to 15% of the population in Slovakia would prefer the Russian vaccine, one of the highest rates in the region. “For many people in Slovakia, the choice of Sputnik V might have become a means to express their political attitudes, one of them being a distrust towards key institutions and health authorities,” Dominika Hajdu, from the Bratislava-based think-tank Globsec, told Kafkadesk.

Controversy only deepened after the national drug agency said gaps in the data provided by Moscow made it impossible to properly evaluate the risks and benefits of the Sputnik V vaccine, and that the doses delivered to Slovakia were likely different than those evaluated in the Lancet medical journal, which had found the jab to be nearly 92% effective against symptomatic Covid-19.

Additional samples were later sent to Hungary, which was the first EU member state to approve its use in February, and Russia. Earlier this month, Slovakia’s Health Ministry said the tests performed at the Hungarian lab proved satisfactory, clearing the way for its use.

“Now the test run by Hungary’s National Public Health Center in the EU-certified lab confirms that Sputnik V batch sent to Slovakia meets all safety and other requirements, debunking earlier incorrect Slovak statements to the contrary,” the Russian RDIF fund, in charge of marketing the vaccine abroad, said in a statement.

If confirmed, Slovakia would become the second EU country to authorize the jab.

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