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EU could approve Russia and China's Covid jabs

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 03/02/2021 Tim Stickings For Mailonline
Ursula von der Leyen, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin posing for the camera: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

The EU could approve Russia and China's coronavirus vaccines if their developers 'show transparency', European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has said as the bloc looks desperately for ways to speed up its stuttering jab roll-out.  

Von der Leyen told lawmakers on Tuesday that 'if the Russian producers, the Chinese producers open their books, show transparency, show all the data... then they could get... a conditional market authorisation like the other ones'. 

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has long been viewed sceptically in the West, but Europe was warming to the jab on Tuesday after trial results published in respected medical journal The Lancet showed it was 91.6 per cent effective.  

The Kremlin today celebrated the Sputnik results which could give Russia a political bargaining chip just as Western governments pile pressure on Moscow over the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. 

German chancellor Angela Merkel said last night that 'all vaccines are welcome' in the EU, adding that she had spoken to Vladimir Putin about the Russian-made jab - whose developers have already approached a German firm about joint production.  

China's Sinopharm product was similarly not part of the EU plan until Hungary broke ranks and approved it on Friday after slamming Brussels for the slow vaccine roll-out.  

Merkel, already under fire for allowing Brussels to take the lead in the vaccine roll-out, is also facing growing criticism over the slow progress in Germany - with Europe's richest country coming only 13th out of 27 in the bloc's vaccination league table. 

More than a month after the EU roll-out began, only 2.3 per cent of the bloc's population has received any dose at all, compared to 14.2 per cent in Britain. 

Ursula von der Leyen standing in front of a flag: European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, pictured, has opened the door to approving Russian and Chinese vaccines which until now have largely been scorned by the West

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, pictured, has opened the door to approving Russian and Chinese vaccines which until now have largely been scorned by the West
© Provided by Daily Mail

Russia savours Sputnik V success and aims to boost production abroad 

Russia savoured a scientific and political win today after Western scientists acknowledged that its Sputnik V vaccine had been proved effective by trial results. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the jab's 91.6 efficacy justified Russia's decision to approve the vaccine last August, before Phase III trials were complete.  

It came after Vladimir Putin ordered Russia's scientific and military apparatus into overdrive to win the vaccine race, with even the name evoking Soviet technological triumphs in the early space race. 

But the premature approval and limited data meant it was widely ignored in the West.  

On Tuesday, however, the trial data published in The Lancet fuelled talk of Sputnik V being used by the EU.  

The vaccine was made available to the wider Russian population in December, and has been approved in more than 15 other countries. 

These include ex-Soviet republics such as Belarus and Armenia, allies like Iran and Venezuela, but also Argentina, Algeria, Tunisia and Pakistan. 

Peskov said Russia was working to further boost production of the vaccine in foreign nations.

'The number of countries that register this vaccine at home is increasing every day,' he said. 'We are very active in responding to enquiries from various countries asking for the supply of this vaccine.'

On Wednesday, the banner headline of the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper celebrated the 'successful launch' of the jab. 

'Russian Sputnik V has been recognised as the safest vaccine,' the newspaper claimed. 

The two-dose jab uses adapted strains of the adenovirus, the same type of virus which is the basis of the Oxford/AstraZeneca product. 

One of Putin's own daughters was among the first to get the jab, while the head of the Gamaleya research centre that developed the jab boasted of having taken an experimental version as early as last spring.   

While the EU boasts of having deals for 2.3billion doses in the bag, it has struggled to get supplies amid delays in Pfizer and AstraZeneca shipments in recent weeks.   

Brussels reacted furiously after AstraZeneca said it would deliver fewer doses than planned to mainland Europe - while continuing to supply the UK in full. 

But the EU's move to impose export controls led to further humiliation for the bloc when it opened the door to checking jab shipments as they crossed the Irish border, only to swiftly abandon the idea amid an outcry from both the UK and Ireland.  

Separately, Germany and France have both restricted the AstraZeneca jab to under-65s - further limiting their ability to protect the most vulnerable groups. 

German regulators pointed to the small sample size of elderly patients in the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial, meaning any effectiveness figure would be meaningless.

But Britain is using the jab for all age groups, with AstraZeneca pointing to trial results showing that 100 per cent of seniors generated antibodies. 

The EU has also approved the Moderna jab in addition to the Pfizer and AstraZeneca products, but the supplies so far have failed to bring about a rapid vaccine drive. 

As a result, there has been growing interest in the Russian and Chinese products which until now had largely been scorned by Western countries. 

Scientists voiced alarm after Moscow registered the Sputnik vaccine last summer before Phase III trials had even been completed. 

But those doubts were eased on Tuesday after The Lancet published results of trials involving 20,000 volunteers showing an overall 91.6 per cent efficacy rate. 

Two UK scientists, Ian Jones of the University of Reading and Polly Roy of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the results mean that 'another vaccine can now join the fight to reduce the incidence of Covid-19'. 

Video: COVID-19: UK & EU open vaccine pathways (Sky News)

'The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticised for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency... but the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated,' they said. 

'There are no arguments left for critics of this vaccine, the article in The Lancet is a checkmate,' said Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. 

The Russian vaccine is also already registered in 16 countries including former Soviet republics as well as Russian allies such as Venezuela and Iran.   

Merkel has proposed German aid for potential 'joint production' of the vaccine, with Brussels insisting that jabs must be made within the EU's borders or in Britain. 

The chancellor has previously offered Putin the help of Germany's official Paul Ehrlich Institute in assisting Russia with the application process for EU regulators. 

Germany's health ministry said today that the Russian Gamaleya institute which developed the jab had approached a German biotechnology firm, IDT Biologika, about jointly producing the jab. 

Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin are posing for a picture: German chancellor Angela Merkel said she had spoken to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, pictured together in 2019, about the Russian-made Sputnik V jab © Provided by Daily Mail German chancellor Angela Merkel said she had spoken to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, pictured together in 2019, about the Russian-made Sputnik V jab a close up of a bottle: A vial of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine which is attracting newfound interest in the EU as it struggles to keep pace with Britain and the US © Provided by Daily Mail A vial of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine which is attracting newfound interest in the EU as it struggles to keep pace with Britain and the US

China's home-grown vaccines: How Beijing is exporting Sinopharm and Sinovac  

Chinese scientists have developed several vaccines, although only one - known as Sinopharm - is being used on the general public in China. 

Sinopharm's developer said in December that the jab was 79.3 per cent effective, but detailed trial data has not been released.

Another Chinese vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech has had efficacy results ranging from 50.4 per cent in Brazil to 91.3 per cent in Turkey. 

While the West has shown little interest, Hungary last week became the first EU country to approve Sinopharm - with PM Viktor Orban saying it would be his jab of choice. 

Chinese president Xi Jinping has promised to make China's vaccines a public good, and Beijing has exported Sinopharm and Sinovac to countries including Indonesia and Turkey. 

The UAE is also using Sinopharm jabs after one of its trials took place in the country.  

Sinopharm has built two facilities in China capable of producing 200million doses per year. 

China's domestic effort is also intensifying amid a spate of new outbreaks and with a goal of vaccinating nine key groups before the travel-heavy Lunar New Year in February.   

Meanwhile, developers of China's Sinopharm vaccine say it has 79.3 per cent effectiveness, and the jab is already in use in other countries including the UAE. 

It has also been approved in Serbia, which is not an EU member, and now in Hungary where PM Viktor Orban said he would rather have Sinopharm than a Western jab. 

'I'm waiting for the Chinese vaccine, I trust in that the most,' said Orban, adding that 'the Chinese have known the virus for the longest'. 

Hungary has also jumped ahead of EU regulators in approving the AstraZeneca jab, amid fury at Brussels for its poor handling of the roll-out.  

French president Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday defended the strategy 'we have adopted with Germany, with the EU, which is precisely to vaccinate in Europe'. 

He added that everyone who wants a vaccine in France will be offered one 'by the end of the summer'. 

As well as being far behind Britain, which fully cut ties with the EU on January 1, the 27-member bloc is also moving much slower than the United States or Israel.  

Admitting to some missteps, von der Leyen told French newspaper Le Monde: 'When you take urgent decisions, and in this year of crisis we've taken around 900, there's always the chance of missing something.' 

In Germany, Merkel also defended the EU's policies, saying EU regulators were right to take their time over approving the AstraZeneca jab. 

Merkel has been criticised for delegating the vaccine roll-out to the EU, but has insisted that 'a virus that affects us all cannot be defeated by any country alone'. 

Germany has struggled to ramp up its vaccine drive and the daily rate of inoculations has hardly increased since the middle of January, hampered by excessive bureaucracy which has also been blamed for France's slow progress.  

Merkel held a summit with state leaders, EU officials and pharmaceutical firms on Monday in a bid to speed up the vaccine drive, but it brought no concrete results. 

a man and a woman standing in a room: A UK care home resident receives a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine last month, with Britain among the world leaders in the vaccine race so far © Provided by Daily Mail A UK care home resident receives a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine last month, with Britain among the world leaders in the vaccine race so far

Echoing Macron, the German chancellor said everyone would be offered a vaccine by the end of summer 2021. 

But Britain's current rate of vaccinations, with around 400,000 people getting a dose every day, would allow for every adult to have got one by around May. 

The UK's vaccine strategy received a further boost on Tuesday with new findings by Oxford University that its vaccine is effective after only one dose. 

Britain switched strategies in late December to give as many people as possible a first dose of the vaccine, delaying the second doses for up to 12 weeks. 

Oxford researchers found that once the vaccine has had three weeks to take effect, it remains 76 per cent effective throughout this three-month period. 

Prof Andrew Pollard, the chief investigator of the Oxford vaccine trial, said the findings 'support the policy recommendation' made by UK health officials. 

In addition, the latest Oxford study said there were promising signs that the vaccine can cut transmission of the disease as well as preventing illness in those infected. 

Swabs taken from volunteers in the UK suggested that transmission could be reduced by as much as 67 per cent, the Oxford researchers said. 

Health experts are also looking to Israel, which is leading the global vaccine race, in order to study real-world data on the effects of the various jabs. 

Preliminary data published last week showed that only 20 people out of 128,600 who received two doses of the Pfizer jab had so far been infected with the Covid-19 virus.    

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