German Chancellor Angela Merkel said 'all vaccines are welcome' today as she praised Russia's Sputnik V jab.
'Every vaccine is welcome in the European Union,' Merkel said in an interview with German broadcaster ARD. 'Today we have read good data for the Russian vaccine too'.
Merkel also told ARD she had recently spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the vaccine, which has been found to 91.6 per cent effective in trial results.
A batch of Sputnik V arrived in Hungary today, making it the first country to adopt the once-controversial jab.
As he announced the vaccine's arrival, Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto slammed the failure of Brussels' attempt to centralise vaccine procurement for member states.
'Brussels' centralised vaccine procurement has failed,' Szijjarto said, adding, 'We were the first in the EU,' to get the Sputnik jab, 'but probably not the last.'
The news coincided with the publication of a study by independent experts that found Moscow's vaccine to be more than 90 percent effective.
His comments come as European Commission President Ursela Von der Leyen is facing mounting pressure over the EU's vaccination programme.
Hungary broke ranks with the EU last month by becoming the first bloc member to approve and order Sputnik V.
'The first shipment will arrive today based on the deal we signed in Moscow,' Szijjarto said in a video on his Facebook page.
The first 40,000 doses had landed with two million to be delivered over three months, enough to inoculate one million people, he said.
'The doses were taken without delay to the National Centre for Public Health for the remaining necessary tests to be carried out before Hungarians can get them according to the planned inoculation roll out,' the minister said.
Hungary has often clashed with Brussels, especially on migration, and repeatedly criticised what it says is the slow pace of vaccine approval and procurement by EU authorities.
Last Friday Budapest also approved the Chinese-made Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine - again the first in the EU to do so - and said it had ordered five million doses.
Hungary has also approved the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
As of February 1, Hungary had recorded 368,710 cases of Covid-19, and 12,578 related deaths, and has given at least one vaccine doe to just 3.23 people per 100.
By comparison, the UK has given 14.42 people per 100 at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, the third highest rate in the world after Israel (57.65) and the UAE (34.79).
Russia registered Sputnik V - named after the Soviet-era satellite - in August, months ahead of Western competitors but before the start of large-scale clinical trials, which left some experts wary.
However, the vaccine is 91.6 percent effective against Covid-19 according to results published in The Lancet journal on Tuesday, that the experts said allayed transparency concerns over the jab.
Just 16 out of 16,500 people given the two-dose jab developed symptoms, while no-one died from the disease or needed hospital treatment.
In a huge boost to Russia's immunisation ambitions, the vaccine was also found to be 74 per cent effective at blocking Covid after just a single dose.
For comparison, Oxford University's vaccine is roughly 70 per cent effective at blocking symptomatic Covid after two doses, while the efficacy for jabs by Pfizer and Moderna is around 95 per cent.
But directly comparing results from trials done in different countries is difficult because trial methods and standards vary.
The Russian jab is what is known as an adenovirus vaccine – which uses a weakened virus that causes the common cold that has been modified not to trigger illness.
Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers).
British scientists reacting to the findings, published in the prestigious journal The Lancet, said the UK should be 'more careful about being overly critical about other countries' vaccine designs'.
Sputnik V has been shrouded in controversy since Vladimir Putin green-lit its approval for mass-use in Russia last August before any human trials had been rigorously analysed. But the jab has still not actually been rolled out nationwide.
The UK Government, which has spent £2billion on pre-orders for 407million vaccines made by seven different developers, has so far made it clear it has no plans to purchase supplies from Russia.
But that hasn't stopped more than 50 countries, including swathes of South America, India, South Korea, Belarus and Hungary, from placing orders.
At about £7 per dose, Sputnik is one of the cheapest Covid vaccines on the market – for example Pfizer's jab costs about £15 per shot, while a dose of Moderna's is £25. Oxford's is still the cheapest, at £3 per dose.
The EU and many of its 27 members have faced criticism over their slow rollout, with fewer than 10million people getting a dose so far across the entire bloc.
Ursela Von der Leyen's European Commission has invested 2.7 billion euros to secure 2.3 billion doses from companies making potential vaccines, mostly using European factories.
Three vaccines are so far authorised for use across the EU's 27 member countries: one by German outfit BioNTech with US giant Pfizer; one by US company Moderna; and most recently one by Anglo-Swedish group AstraZeneca.
All three firms are undershooting on delivery schedules for the January-March first-quarter period, panicking EU officials.
While excessive bureaucracy in countries such as France and Germany has been one reason for the slow start, the EU has also struggled to get hold of enough supplies.
Last week, Brussels accused pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca of breaching its contract with the EU, amid suspicion that the company had supplied the UK with stock that was meant to go to countries in the bloc.
Britain used emergency procedures to grant market approval to the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Oxford University, and signed a contract three months earlier than the EU, which used a slower approval process.
But German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday defended the European Union's troubled vaccine drive, saying there were 'good reasons' the rollout had got off to a slower start than in some other countries.
Speaking after a vaccine 'summit' that brought together key players, Merkel renewed a promise to offer every German citizen a vaccine by the end of September.
For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has offered Putin the possibility of 'joint production'.
Merkel had convened the online talks in response to growing anger in the 27-member bloc over the sluggish rollout of Covid-19 jabs, which has been beset with delivery delays and piled political pressure on EU leaders.
'It is true that in some areas, the pace became slower, but there were good reasons for it to be slower,' Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
Merkel, the leader of Europe's largest economy, acknowledged that the United States, Israel and Britain were further along with their inoculations.
But she said the EU had deliberately avoided rushed emergency approvals, as seen in the UK, to bolster public 'confidence' in the jabs.
The EU had also at times negotiated 'for a very long time' to ensure pharma companies took on enough liability, she said.
And the bloc chose not to sacrifice data protection, Merkel added, in a nod to Israel's deal with Pfizer/BioNTech to offer data on its inoculation campaign in exchange for doses.
German media has been scathing about the EU's troubled vaccine drive, with the topselling Bild daily calling it a 'disaster'.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.