By Radovan Stoklasa
ZILINA, Slovakia (Reuters) - Slovakia became the European Union's second country to start inoculating people with the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine on Monday, after months of rows over the shot that has yet to be approved by European regulators.
Then-Prime Minister Igor Matovic bought Sputnik V in March, saying it would speed up vaccination efforts. The country of 5.5 million bought 200,000 doses and intended to buy 2 million.
The launch of vaccinations was delayed, however, amid a political crisis that erupted because Matovic had done the deal without consulting his coalition partners, who opposed using the vaccine before it had EU approval.
A reconstructed cabinet finally gave the go-ahead last month to give Sputnik V to those who specifically chose it.
In the northern city of Zilina, one of eight vaccination points chosen to give Sputnik V shots opened on Monday and had more than 600 applications. The centre has an initial capacity of about 100 shots per day, which can be increased if needed.
"It was developed in a facility that has extensive experience in the development of vaccines," said Igor Konik, 57, the first to receive the shot at the Zilina centre.
"The fact that it is not recognised by (EU regulators) does not prevent me from being vaccinated by it."
Vladimir Krc, 57, said he believed in Sputnik V the most. "We waited for Sputnik to come, because it is the safest vaccine," he said.
But the vaccine has received a less than ringing endorsement from Health Minister Vladimir Lengvarsky, who said when announcing the government decision to use the shot that he would not take it himself. Lengvarsky also said the government would not order additional doses until the vaccine was registered by the European Medical Agency (EMA).
Slovak media reported that more than 5,000 people across the country have so far registered to receive Sputnik V. A total of 77,000 people were waiting for a first dose of all vaccines, according to data from news website www.sme.cz.
In neighbouring Hungary 1 million people have received 2 doses of Sputnik V, a quarter of the total number to be fully vaccinated in the fellow EU member state.
Slovakia has so far given more than 1.8 million first doses and more than 950,000 second doses of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
(Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alex Richardson)