Monday 15 March 2021 8:12 am

EU considers turning to Russia's Sputnik vaccine as Astrazeneca scepticism swells

The EU is in discussions to place an order of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine, according to reports, as scepticism about the efficacy and possible side effects of Astrazeneca’s Covid jab considers to spread across the continent.

The bloc is now turning to Moscow’s Sputnik V vaccine as it attempts to speed up its sluggish immunisation programme, EU diplomatic and official sources told Reuters.

Hungary and Slovakia have already bought the Russian shot, while the Czech Republic has registered its interest in the jab.

The deal would mark a major boost for Russia, whose trade with the bloc has been compromised for years by sanctions over its annexation of Crimea.

The EU has approved four vaccines so far, including the Astrazeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson jabs. However, production glitches and manufacturing scale-ups have slowed the bloc’s vaccination programme, causing some member states to seek their own solutions.

Brussels has received heavy criticism for the EU’s slow vaccine roll-out, at the same time that the UK is preparing to lift lockdown restrictions as Britain’s vaccine programme begins to take effect.

Just over 9.5 per cent of people in the EU have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine, compared to around 36 per cent of people in the UK, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker.

Italy has ramped up current restrictions following a 10 per cent spike in infections last week, with the country to set to enter its third nationwide lockdown over the Easter weekend.

At the same time, various EU countries have suspended the rollout of the Astrazeneca jab over fears of potential side effects.

The Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland and Norway have all suspended vaccinations using the Astrazeneca jab during an investigation into a blood clot-related death of a patient in Denmark and reports of other serious side effects elsewhere.

Separately, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Latvia have paused vaccinations administered using a specific vaccine batch, ABV5300, which was administered to a person in Austria who died from a blood clot last week.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Friday there was no evidence of a link between the events and the jabs, stressing that “the vaccine’s benefits currently still outweigh the risks”. It urged countries to continue with their vaccination campaigns.

Read more: EU extends vaccine exports checks by three months amid Astrazeneca row

It added that the number of blood clots in people who have received the Astrazeneca vaccine is no higher than that seen in the general population. So far, 22 blood clots have been reported among the 3m people who have received the Astrazeneca jab as of 9 March.