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Exclusive: EU Staff In Moscow Given Green Light For Sputnik Vaccination

The Russian-produced Sputnik V vaccine is yet to be approved by the European Medicines Agency. (file photo)
The Russian-produced Sputnik V vaccine is yet to be approved by the European Medicines Agency. (file photo)

The European Union is allowing its diplomats in Moscow to be vaccinated with the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine if they choose, even though it hasn't been approved by the bloc's regulators, according to an internal email seen by RFE/RL.

In an e-mail sent from a senior person in the EU delegation in Moscow on February 3 titled "Covid Vaccine -- Urgent Request For Feedback Today," staff were informed that Russian authorities had decided to "extend the COVID vaccination campaign also to the diplomatic corps, organized by the city of Moscow."

The statement adds that "for that purpose, they are collecting the data of diplomatic mission staff or their family members over 18 willing to be vaccinated (first name and last name, date of birth, and the Ministry’s accreditation card numbers)."

Sputnik V is not mentioned anywhere explicitly in the text, but the e-mail states that Russian authorities "are not specifying the vaccine to be used" and that "more information about where and how the vaccination would take place will be sent later when they see the interest from the diplomatic community."

The e-mail adds, however, that "we have from the HQ not received any decisive opinion on whether we should get local vaccinations or non-EMA approved vaccines, where such are available."

To date, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved three vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

"We have been advised that this is a personal decision of each individual but it is not a proper duty of care to recommend any vaccine that has not been approved by EMA. Hence, the delegation cannot actively recommend, but is leaving it to any individual to decide whether you and/or your adult, in Moscow registered, family member wants this," the letter said.

In a written response to an RFE/RL question on whether the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic corps, had proposed guidelines to its various delegations worldwide on how to approach the issue of local COVID vaccinations with non-EMA approved vaccines, EEAS spokesperson Nabila Massrali said that "the EEAS is discussing with member states the different options for vaccination of EU diplomats and staff posted abroad in due respect of the EU policy on the timing and pace of deploying the vaccines (i.e. priority groups); the logistical and legal challenges and in line with EU support to third countries."

A source in Moscow told RFE/RL that Russian officials have been offering European diplomats the vaccine "like crazy, at every occasion, at every meeting."

Sputnik V’s official Twitter account, meanwhile, notes that Italy’s ambassador to Russia, Pasquale Terracciano, was vaccinated by them and in their post from 19 January he is quoted as saying "I have been inoculated with the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V. I have not experienced any noticeable side effects."

The Russian government's offer comes at a time when the EU's vaccine rollout continues to sputter.

The EU rollout started several weeks after both Britain and the United States and the bloc had on average administered just 2.6 vaccination doses per 100 people, compared to the U.K.'s 12.5 doses and 8.8 in the United States.

The EU's problems have been compounded by supply problems involving Pfizer/BionTech, and more significantly, AstraZeneca, which in late January announced it was cutting back planned supplies to the EU by a reported 60 percent to 31 million doses following disruptions at its plant in Belgium.

The delays are also acknowledged in the e-mail, which stated that "we in the EU delegation can also unfortunately not respond to any possible questions you may have on medical prerogatives of the vaccine, its safety and efficacy beyond what you read in the media already."

"The fact remains that from all we know other vaccines may take longer to make it to Moscow (or even for us to get vaccines in our home countries or Brussels)," it added.

The clamor for the Sputnik V vaccine in Europe has also increased after the renowned scientific journal The Lancet published the news earlier this week that the Russian vaccine was 91.6 percent effective in preventing people from developing COVID-19, according to peer-reviewed results from its late-stage clinical trial.

Several European politicians have recently pushed for the EU to approve Sputnik V, and Emer Cooke, the head of the EMA, said in a press conference last week that the agency had "not received an application either for a rolling review or for marketing authorization," but added that "we are in discussions with the company who is responsible for this vaccine. And they have raised a number of questions with us in the context of scientific advice. And this will obviously shape how the evaluation could go forward in the future."

Hungary, using an emergency authorization, broke ranks with the rest of the EU in January when it bought two million doses of Sputnik V but it has not received the vaccination yet.

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    Rikard Jozwiak

    Rikard Jozwiak is the Europe editor for RFE/RL in Prague, focusing on coverage of the European Union and NATO. He previously worked as RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent, covering numerous international summits, European elections, and international court rulings. He has reported from most European capitals, as well as Central Asia.

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