Russian vaccines sent to Slovakia on hold for at least a month

FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist holds a vial of Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus in a department store in Moscow, Russia
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PRAGUE (Reuters) - Doses of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine sent to Slovakia in March will have to be kept in storage for at least another month, after Moscow asked for some doses to be sent back for testing, Slovakia's health ministry said on Wednesday.

Slovakia received the 200,000 doses at the beginning of last month, part of what was intended to be a deal for 2 million doses that caused a political storm which led the prime minister to resign.

The vaccines have so far sat unused, with Slovakia's drug agency SUKL refusing to endorse the product, citing a lack of data.

Russia has yet to win approval from the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency, for Sputnik V. So far, Hungary is the only EU country to have begun inoculations with Sputnik V without waiting for EMA approval.

Slovakia's Health Ministry said a sample of 600 doses had been sent back to Russia for further tests at Moscow's request, and that vaccinations with Sputnik V would not begin for at least a month, until those tests were complete. It did not say what sort of tests the Russians planned to carry out.

"The Russians asked us for this opportunity and we granted it," Health Minister Vladimir Lengvarsky told a news conference shown online. "They want to check the batches."

Slovakia's purchase of Sputnik V caused a political storm, as then-prime minister Igor Matovic had bought the vaccine without telling his coalition partners. Matovic was forced to resign but returned to the new cabinet as finance minister.

Following the Slovak regulator's refusal to endorse the vaccine, Matovic asked Hungary for additional testing. Russia asked Slovakia to return the 200,000 doses, which it declined to do.

Lengvarsky said on Wednesday he wanted Slovak experts to be satisfied with the vaccine's safety before it is used in the country.

Slovakia has vaccinated nearly a fifth of its population with at least one dose, so far using only vaccines approved by the EMA.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Peter Graff)

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