Russian Sputnik V vaccine splits Slovakia ruling coalition


PRAGUE — Slovakia was thrown into a political crisis Tuesday over a secret deal to acquire Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine orchestrated by the country’s prime minister despite disagreement among his coalition partners.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic defended the move, saying it was made in the public interest amid a surge of infections in one of the hardest hit European Union countries.

Matovic said it wasn’t the point where the vaccine is from but that “it saves lives.”

Slovakia is only the second European Union country to use the vaccine, which hasn’t been approved by the European Medicines Agency, after Hungary.

The move was made possible after approval from Health Minister Marek Krajci, who represents Matovic’s Ordinary People movement in his four-party coalition.

Matovic’s coalition partners weren’t impressed.

Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok from the pro-business Freedom and Solidarity party says he wants to consult the country’s leaders over the purchase. Korcok said he clearly considered the vaccine a tool in Russia’s hybrid war against the West.

“This political tool divides us at home and abroad,” Korcok said. He said the purchase cast doubts on his country’s clear pro-Western orientation.

Another coalition partner, the For People party, meets later Tuesday to discuss further steps. Its leader, deputy Prime Minister Veronika Remisova, repeatedly said that Sputnik V can’t be used unless approved by the EU’s drug regulator.

”We also care about the health of our citizens and their inoculation, but only with the vaccines whose safety and effectiveness have been verified,” Remisova said.

President Zuzana Caputova said she was in favor of using “all available and safe vaccines” to protect people’s lives, but that Sputnik V wasn’t one of them because “there’s no responsible authority to guarantee its safety.”

Caputova spoke Tuesday after meeting the head of Slovakia’s drug agency, Zuzana Batova, who said to use an unregistered vaccine is “highly risky.”

But with Western vaccines rolling out slowly, Matovic, the prime minister, argued his country “is not in a position to rely only on European solutions.”

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Slovakia has risen over the past two weeks from 1.78 deaths per 100,000 people on Feb. 15 to 1.81 deaths on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Matovic called on his coalition partners to “put aside the politics for a while.”

He said the 2 million Russian vaccine doses could help solve “the worst crisis since World War II.” Matovic kept the deal secret until a plane landed Monday with the first 200,000.

So far, 7,388 people died of COVID-19 in the nation of 5.4 million. A record 4,042 coronavirus patients were hospitalized Monday.

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