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Czech President Wants Health Minister Ousted Over Wait For Russian Vaccine

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Czech President Milos Zeman (right) said last month that he asked President Vladimir Putin (left) to arrange Sputnik V deliveries to his country.

Czech President Milos Zeman has called for Health Minister Jan Blatny to be dismissed for not rushing to allow Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine to be used in the country.

Blatny has said the vaccine should only be used in the country after the European Union registers it, while Zeman insisted in an interview published on March 10 that the Czech authorities should move forward with vaccinating Czechs with Sputnik V.

In the interview with the newspaper Parlamentni listy, Zeman said that Russian and Chinese vaccines should be allowed for immediate use in the country, which currently has the highest infection rate per capita in the European Union.

"The two biggest obstacles to this are the minister of health, Blatny, and also the director of the State Institute for Pharmaceuticals Control [Irena Storova]," he said, adding that by delaying the usage of the vaccines, the two officials were responsible for people "dying unnecessarily" in the Czech Republic from COVID-19.

Zeman said he would likely ask Prime Minister Andrej Babis at a meeting scheduled for March 22 to dismiss Blatny.

Speaking to reporters in Prague later on March 10, Babis said, "Any personal changes in the cabinet are not on the table at this moment."

He said Zeman's latest comments were "nothing new."

"I think that Mr. President's opinion on this has been the same all the time. Of course, I take note of it. That is everything that I can say on this."

Until recently, Zeman, who himself was vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in January, shared the point of view that the country should wait for EU approval for Chinese and Russian vaccines.

In the interview, he did not give a reason for the change in his outlook, though he noted that local authorities in Hungary had approved Sputnik V, while Slovakia has already taken delivery of the vaccine as it moves toward approval.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has begun reviewing the shot for possible approval, but an EMA official has warned EU members against issuing national emergency clearance of Sputnik V.

Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, the chair of the EMA's management board and the head of the Austrian Medicines and Medical Devices Agency, said on Austrian television on March 9 that EU members approving Russian and Chinese vaccines via emergency national procedures was "partly comparable with Russian roulette," citing the need to first examine data on the quality, safety, and effectiveness of the shots.

"Citizens have a right to get really safe and effective medicinal products," Wirthumer-Hoche added. "We can have Sputnik V on the market here in the future if we have examined the corresponding data."

The Kremlin called the comments "inappropriate."

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In late February, Zeman told CNN that during talks with President Vladimir Putin, he asked the Russian leader to arrange Sputnik V deliveries to his country.

Zeman emphasized in the March 10 interview that the Czech Republic had received an offer to produce Sputnik V together with Germany.

On March 9, European Council President Charles Michel accused Russian and Chinese authorities of using the issue of vaccines in propaganda, saying that the two countries' deliveries of the vaccines abroad were limited, while such deliveries are being widely advertised for political purposes.

The same day, Russia signed a deal to produce Sputnik V in Italy, the first such contract in the European Union.

The number of registered coronavirus cases in the Czech Republic, a country of 10.6 million people, has reached 1.35 million, including 22,385 deaths.

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