Russia cries ‘sabotage’ as Slovak drug agency questions its vaccine

‘Congratulations idiots!’ Slovak finance minister tells critics of his Sputnik V deal

 Hungarian minister of foreign affairs and trade Peter Szijjarto, right,  receives Slovakian finance minister Igor Matovic  at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Budapest, on April 9th. Photograph: Lajos Soos/ EPA

Hungarian minister of foreign affairs and trade Peter Szijjarto, right, receives Slovakian finance minister Igor Matovic at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Budapest, on April 9th. Photograph: Lajos Soos/ EPA

 

Slovakia’s controversial purchase of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has sparked another round of political fighting, after the vaccine’s developers accused the Slovak drug regulator of “sabotage” when it raised doubts about the batch it tested.

A surprise decision in early March by then Slovak premier Igor Matovic to buy two million doses of Sputnik V despite it not having EU safety clearance triggered a row in the ruling coalition that threatened to bring down the government.

The crisis was resolved only when the populist Mr Matovic resigned and became finance minister, from where he has continued to defend his purchase of Sputnik V, which appeared to be safe and effective, according to peer-reviewed data published in the Lancet medical journal in February.

As Mr Matovic flew to Moscow on Thursday to discuss the fiasco, Slovakia’s drug safety agency, SUKL, said “batches of [Sputnik V] vaccine used in preclinical tests and clinical studies published in the Lancet journal do not have the same characteristics and properties as batches of vaccine imported to Slovakia”.

“It is only its name that links it to the Sputnik V vaccines used in about 40 countries around the world... Based on laboratory tests alone, it is not possible to conclude on efficacy and safety in humans.”

SUKL said a proper assessment of the 200,000-dose batch delivered to Slovakia last month was impossible because “approximately 80 per cent” of required data had not been supplied by Russia “even after repeated requests”.

‘Fake news’

The developers of the vaccine, including Russian sovereign wealth fund RDIF, took to Twitter to deny the claims and accuse SUKL of spreading “fake news” and committing “sabotage” by conducting some tests in a laboratory lacking special certification.

“RDIF has requested the Slovak government to send the vaccine to the EU certified laboratory for testing... [and return] the vaccine due to multiple contract violations so that it can be used in other countries.”

Mr Matovic accused his political rivals of threatening Slovakia’s vaccination drive by attacking Sputnik V: “Congratulations idiots! You’ve taken hostage the health of a million people in Slovakia,” he wrote on Facebook.

“Unfortunately, it appears the Russian vaccine has too many high-ranking opponents in Slovakia, and they’ve done everything they can to prevent it from being used,” he said on Friday, before travelling for more talks on the issue to neighbouring Hungary, which has good ties with Moscow and is the only EU state now using Sputnik V.

Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said his country’s laboratories would analyse Slovakia’s Sputnik V doses at Mr Matovic’s request.

“It does not undermine trust in our vaccine in the EU in any way,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the spat. “If Slovakia doesn’t need the vaccine, other countries will be pleased... there will be more for others.”