Ambassador says Russia ready to help Ireland with vaccine supply

THE RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR to Ireland, Yuriy Filatov, has said his home country is ready to “help” vaccinate people in Ireland against Covid-19, but that the Irish authorities have not yet approached Russia about ordering its Sputnik V vaccine.

In an email sent last night to Independent TD Richard O’Donoghue, Ambassador Filatov stated “many Irish citizens” had written to the Embassy “asking if the Irish government contacted on the issue of Sputnik V supplies and seeking the ways to receive the Russian jab”.

“I would like to assure all of them that we would like to help and are open for any discussions on vaccine supplies to Ireland as well as other aspects of cooperation with the Russian vaccine producers – if there is an interest on the Irish Government side,” Filatov added.

Limerick TD Richard O’Donoghue, who initially contacted the Russian Embassy on 9 March last, this morning responded to Filatov’s email, saying it was “beyond belief” the Irish government had not yet approached Russia about potentially ordering supplies of Sputnik V.

“What are we playing at? Sputnik was the first vaccine to be approved in the world, and the Russian Ambassador to Ireland has told me Russia is awaiting an approach from Ireland — on a vaccine that has already been approved in more than 50 countries around the world,” O’Donoghue said.

Despite having his own reservations about the Russian vaccine, last year, the respected Trinity College Dublin (TCD) immunologist, Professor Luke O’Neill, has now backed Sputnik as “a very safe vaccine”.

“We were worrying about Sputnik, but it has been in millions of people, it has a great safety profile, and it’s highly efficacious, why wouldn’t the EMA approve it?,” Prof O’Neill told the Pat Kenny Newstalk radio programme on 4 March.

The EMA (European Medicines Agency) which is conducting a rolling review of data from Sputnik V despite its roll out across some countries.

Speaking on RTE’s Claire Byrne Live programme on 15 March, immunologist, Kingston Mills, Professor of Experimental Immunology, School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TCD, and Head of the Centre for the Study of Immunology at Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, said Ireland should go outside the European procurement process in “sourcing the Russian vaccine, and also the Novavax vaccine which I see as probably one of the best vaccines”.

“We should be thinking outside the box in Ireland, and thinking about the Sputnik vaccine, for example, which is a fantastic vaccine with very high effectiveness,” Professor Mills added.

On 11 March, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he believed there would be a domestic tourist market in Ireland this summer, and that he remained hopeful vaccination timelines could be met to allow this.

Varadkar told Newstalk that while the data on Sputnik V was “as good as the Pfizer vaccine” the government would wait on the results of the EMA review of the Russian vaccine.

However, he accused Russia of not vaccinating “much of their own population” and that, “while they are giving some of their allies some vaccines, it’s not going to be a game-changer for us”.

In last night’s email to Richard O’Donoghue, Russian Ambassador Filatov said the main issue for countries “is to provide as many vaccines as possible”.

He argued, “Sputnik V, which became the first registered vaccine against coronavirus in the world, is one of the most effective and safe vaccines showing efficacy of 91.6% and is the main vaccine in the rollout in Russia”.

“Jabs of the second Russian-made vaccine EpiVacCorona, which successfully passed necessary clinical trials and was duly registered, have been administered in Russian regions since mid-February.”

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“The third vaccine CoviVac, was registered on 20 February. It’s rollout is expected to begin imminently.”

Filatov said other countries had been initially sceptical of Sputnik V, “but life has proven all sceptics wrong”, and it is now “recognised by the international scientific community”.

“As of today, this vaccine is approved for use in 51 countries” and “Russia continues to receive many requests from partners, including the EU members, for direct supplies of Sputnik V”.

Filatov said that “public health, both domestically and internationally, is at stake” and Russia was “ready to share what we have”.

He said he understood “the frustration of some high-ranking EU officials in the face of current vaccines procurement and distribution problems” but that “‘Russia bashing’ is definitely not a way to solve them, there is no place for politicking around COVID-19”.

A Department of Health spokeswoman stated: “While it is a matter for the individual Member State as regards whether it wishes to authorise a vaccine for emergency usage, doing so incurs significant risk on the Member State concerned and could contribute to vaccine hesitancy more generally.

“Ireland supports the EU Procurement Process, the purpose of which is to secure safe and efficacious vaccines for EU citizens,” she said.

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