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Germany urges Commission to purchase Sputnik vaccine at EU level

Germany is urging the European Commission to launch a joint purchase of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for the EU, a German official said Wednesday.

"We have asked the Commission" to launch a procurement procedure for Sputnik, the official told reporters at a briefing in Berlin, adding that "we are seeing now that the Commission is in the process of launching this procedure."

The official said the Commission must first test the waters among EU capitals to see which countries are interested in buying the Russian shot before launching contract negotiations over the number of doses. After that contract is settled, EU countries could potentially buy Sputnik doses via the EU contract, the German official said.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) received the first set of data on the Sputnik shot earlier this month as Russia seeks European authorization. EMA chief Emer Cooke said Tuesday that the regulator is preparing to inspect sites in Russia that are producing the country's COVID-19 vaccine. It's unclear what the EMA's timeline is on making a decision on the Russian jab.

The German official said the first steps of the EU procurement procedure could begin in the meantime.

"We believe that this process can start now, while the [regulatory authorization] is still ongoing" at the EMA, the official said. "We would consider it right if talks were to be initiated promptly now."

The official added, however, that official negotiations with Russia had not yet started. "I believe that this will also be discussed again politically in the near future," the official said, alluding to potential discussions among EU leaders on the issue at Thursday and Friday's virtual European Council summit.

Authorizing the Russian jab at the EU level is controversial for some countries. Lithuania's Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonyt warned last month that "Sputnik comes packed with many layers of propaganda and even not-hidden ambition to divide the EU countries and their partners in the south and in the east."

Some EU countries like Hungary and Slovakia have already bought the vaccine at national level, bypassing EMA's regulatory oversight.

At least four EU countries are needed to request that talks start on advance purchase agreements. As of last Sunday, the Commission said there were "no talks yet" with the Sputnik V developers.

When reached for comment Wednesday, a Commission spokesperson declined to give much more detail.

"I cannot add anything else but the fact that Member States and Commission may decide together and at any time to expand the vaccine portfolio," the spokesperson said.

[Source: By Hans von der Burchard, Politico, 24Mar21]

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