Madrid government condemned for Russian vaccine purchase talks

Regional leader defends move even though jab has not been EU approved

The local government of Madrid is facing widespread criticism for skipping protocol by entering negotiations for the purchase of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which has not yet been approved for use by the EU.

ABC newspaper revealed that the regional administration held three meetings with personnel involved in negotiating the distribution of the Russian vaccine. The newspaper reported that at least one of those meetings was in Madrid in February and was attended by the regional government’s healthcare minister, Enrique Ruiz-Escudero, as well as the honorary consul for Russia in the Spanish city of Vigo, Pedro Mouriño.

The Madrid government confirmed the reports. “If we have the chance to import the Sputnik vaccine we will do so, and we will do so as fast as possible,” said Mr Ruiz-Escudero.

This is the latest in a litany of pandemic-related incidents that have put the Madrid regional government, led by Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the conservative Popular Party (PP), at loggerheads with the leftist central administration of Pedro Sánchez.

“This wouldn’t be the first, or even the fifth or the 10th time that the Madrid region has been ahead of the Spanish national government and has analysed all the possible scenarios in which to fight the virus,” Ms Díaz Ayuso said, defending her actions.

Although Hungary has started using the Russian vaccine and other countries have made preliminary moves towards its use, it has not ,yet been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). It would be unusual for a local government to procure a vaccine without consultation with the national administration.

“All the governments, regional and central, and all the governments of Europe, we have to be responsible, serious, loyal, and we need to show solidarity,” said Mr Sánchez when asked about the Madrid region’s unilateral actions. Other politicians, from across the spectrum, have been more outspoken in condemning Ms Ayuso.

‘Totally ridiculous’

Edmundo Bal, of the Ciudadanos party, which recently split from the governing coalition in Madrid, described the attempts to buy the Russian vaccine as “totally ridiculous”.

“There’s no point in negotiating a vaccine with Moscow when over Easter health clinics in [Madrid] districts weren’t vaccinating,” said Íñigo Errejón, leader of the leftist Más País party.

Last year the governments of Spain and Madrid repeatedly clashed over the latter’s refusal to adopt stricter restrictions on movement and social activity as Covid infections climbed. Although Madrid is subject to a nationwide curfew, businesses, bars and restaurants have fewer controls than in most other parts of the country. On Tuesday, Madrid had 289 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the second-highest infection rate of Spain’s 17 regions, after Navarre.

However, on Wednesday the central government faced another regional rebellion, when Castilla y León, also governed by the conservative PP, suspended administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine pending EMA clarification over its possible link to blood clots. The move drew a rebuke from the Sánchez administration, which said such decisions should be taken on a national level.

Just under three million Spaniards have been fully vaccinated, or 6 per cent of the population. However, this week the government reiterated its commitment to vaccinating 33 million people – 70 per cent of the population – by the end of August.