Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron discussed Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine and its use in Europe on a conference call on Tuesday, the Kremlin said.
Moscow’s statement said that among other subjects the Russian, German and French leaders discussed prospects for the registration of the vaccine in the EU and the possibility of shipments and joint production in EU nations. It did not say who raised the topic.
The EU’s sluggish vaccine rollout has been dogged by an early shortage of doses, but those shortfalls were expected to ease significantly from the beginning of next month with more than 300m doses of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines set to arrive in April, May and June.
The German government confirmed last week it would be open to using Sputnik V if and when it is approved by the European Medicines Agency, with Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert saying an eventual green light from the EMA would make the shot “worth considering for Germany”.
Referring to the Russian vaccine, the chancellor herself said Germany “should use any vaccine that has been approved” by the EMA, while the German health ministry said last week “all vaccines are welcome if they have been approved by the EMA”.
France has been considerably more circumspect, tuttavia, with the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, last week accusing both Russia and China of using their vaccines to gain influence and score points abroad.
“In terms of how it is managed, [the Sputnik V vaccine] is more a means of propaganda and aggressive diplomacy than a means of solidarity and health aid,” Le Drian told France Info radio.
Thierry Breton, the French EU commissioner who heads the EU executive’s vaccine taskforce, has also said the bloc has “absolutely no need of Sputnik V” since it “clearly has the capacity to deliver 300 to 350m doses” by the end of June.
The Sputnik V manufacturer responded aggressively, saying in a series of Twitter posts that Breton was “clearly biased” and demanding: “If this is an official position of the EU, please inform us that there is no reason to pursue EMA approval because of your political biases.”
The European regulator launched a rolling review of Sputnik V earlier this month, a step towards it being approved as the first non-western coronavirus jab to be used across the bloc. EU experts are due to visit Russia in April to check the results of clinical trials and inspect the production process.
Russia registered the shot in August before large-scale clinical trials, prompting initial fears about its safety. But reviews since have been largely positive, with The Lancet publishing results showing the vaccine is safe and more than 90% effective.
Russian manufacturers have not so far managed to increase domestic production to meet demand at home and abroad, but the government has said the country aims to produce 178m individual doses of Sputnik V and two other vaccines, EpiVacCorona and CoviVak, by the end of June.
It has also said it hopes to fully vaccinate 30 million Russians by the same date, leaving a possible 118m domestically produced shots available for export. It also has reportedly set up production deals with 10 other countries to produce its vaccines outside Russia.
Russian pharmaceuticals company R-Pharm said last week it expected to begin joint production of Sputnik V shots in its plant in Bavaria, southern Germany, with doses starting to become available from June. France and Spain have also been named as potential production sites for Sputnik V production within the EU.
The three leaders also discussed the Iranian nuclear standoff and the conflicts in eastern Ukraine, Libya and Syria, the Kremlin said in its readout. It said Putin also responded to questions about the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a “frank and businesslike” discussion.