EU Must Be United Over Russian, Chinese COVID-19 Vaccines: French Minister

EU Must Be United Over Russian, Chinese COVID-19 Vaccines: French Minister
France's Europe minister, Clement Beaune, wearing a protective face mask, leaves following a weekly Cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on July 29, 2020. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

PARIS—A French cabinet minister urged EU countries on Friday not to use the Russian or Chinese COVID-19 vaccines unless they are approved by the bloc’s medicines regulator, warning of a risk to the bloc’s unity and public health.

After a fitful start to the European Union’s vaccination campaign which has left the bloc lagging other countries such as Britain, some member states in central Europe have already bought or are considering buying Russian or Chinese shots.

Asked whether each EU member state was now simply doing “what they wish themselves,” European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told RTL radio: “If they were to choose the Chinese and/or Russian vaccine, I think it would be quite serious.”

“It would pose a problem in terms of our solidarity, and it would pose a health risk problem, because the Russian vaccine is not yet authorized in Europe,” he said.

The EU has so far dealt with vaccine procurement centrally, through the executive European Commission.

But Sputnik V has been approved or is being assessed for approval in Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

Hungary has already started inoculating people with Sinopharm and Sputnik V, and Poland has discussed buying the Chinese vaccine.

Europe’s medicines regulator (EMA) said on Thursday it had started a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. But even if it is approved, there is no obligation for the European Commission to include it in our portfolio.

Europe has so far approved vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca/Oxford, while ongoing reviews for CureVac and Novavax’s candidates are underway.

The EMA is expected to give its verdict on J&J’s single-shot vaccine on March 11.

Hungary was the first EU country to grant the Russian vaccine emergency national approval in January, Slovakia has ordered shipments, and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has said his country could move to use Sputnik V.

The Italian region of Lazio said it would seek 1 million doses of Sputnik V if approved by the EMA, while the government of the tiny independent enclave of San Marino said it had started using the Russian vaccine this week.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has also talked with Chinese leader Xi Jinping about buying the Chinese COVID-19 shot. Some in Russia tout Sputnik V as a potential “bridge” between Russia and Europe. The European Commission says there are no talks under way for now about buying Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

By Sudip Kar-Gupta