EU vaccine unity in tatters as Austria’s Kurz goes rogue with phone call to Vladimir Putin

EU slammed by Kurz for 'bizarre' vaccine distribution

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The Austrian Government yesterday confirmed the move, with a confidentiality agreement between Austria and Russia on the exchange of documents already signed. The move comes despite reticence about the Russia-developed jab within the European Commission, with a spokeswoman saying the vaccine was “not part of its portfolio”.

Austria has currently administered 17.5 coronavirus doses per 100 people – slightly above the EU-wide average of 15.58, according to the Our World In Data website, but well below the UK’s level of 50.26.

Negotiations are currently underway between Austrian and Russian representatives for the delivery of 300,000 units in April, 500,000 units in May and 200,000 units in early June – although a purchase decision has not yet been made.

Nevertheless, in a statement yesterday, Mr Kurz said: “The only thing that counts is whether the vaccine is effective and safe, not where it comes from.

“If Austria receives an additional one million doses of vaccine, an earlier return to normal would be possible and we can save many lives and jobs.”

Mr Kurz, the leader of the Austrian People’s Party (OVP) spoke with Mr Putin by phone last month to ask about procuring doses of Sputnik V, the Austrian Government said.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), responsible for the international sales, was contacted on the same day.

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Referring to cabinet minister Rudolf Anschober, he said: “Sputnik V is already in use in 57 countries.

“Austria could already be one of these countries if the health minister wasn’t called Anschober.”

Medical Association President Thomas Szekeres said: “It is very gratifying that the numerous appeals from the Austrian Medical Association to obtain additional Covid vaccine doses have fallen on fertile ground.

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“Millions of doses of this vaccine have already been used without any major side effects.”

Nevertheless, Neos health spokesman Gerald Loacker warned: “Without a positive approval procedure, Sputnik V must not be vaccinated in Austria.

“That would undermine the population’s trust in the vaccination and endanger vaccination progress in Austria in the long term.

“If the government had not given up one and a half million doses of Johnson & Johnson in autumn, the government would not even have to think about such actions.”

The Commission has so far signed contracts with the pharmaceutical companies Biontech/ Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The spokesman explained: “So far, however, according to the European Medicines Agency, no application has been received from the Sputnik-V manufacturer for market approval in the EU.

“It is crucial for the EU that the vaccines are tested for their safety, quality and effectiveness.”

No negotiations were currently underway with Russia over Sputnik V, she added.

Neighbouring Hungary became the first member of the EU27 to approve the use of Sputnik V in January.

(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)

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