German vaccine boss praises Russian vaccine as ‘clever’

The head of Germany’s vaccine agency has praised Russia’s Sputnik V inoculation against coronavirus, saying he expects it to be approved in Europe.

German vaccine boss praises Russian vaccine as ‘clever’
The Sputnik V vaccine. Photo: DPA

“This is a good vaccine that will probably also be approved in the EU at some point. The Russian researchers are very experienced with vaccines. Sputnik V is cleverly built,” Thomas Mertens, head of the vaccine commission Stiko, told the Rheinische Post on Tuesday.

Russia approved Sputnik V for use last summer, something that led to criticism in the international research community. Other scientists questioned whether the vaccine was as effective as Russian studies claimed.

Some EU states have already started using the Russian jab, having granted it emergency approval. Hungary and Slovakia have both followed this path.

After the medical journal The Lancet declared in early February that Sputnik V is 92 percent effective, Angela Merkel declared that “every vaccine is welcome in the European Union”.

She said she had already spoken to Putin in January about how Germany could assist Russia’s vaccine efforts, offering the help of Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institute with the EMA application process.

Health Minister Jens Spahn also declared in February that talks were ongoing with Moscow to explore production capacities for the Sputnik jab in Germany or elsewhere in Europe.

Speaking at an online forum, Spahn described the cooperation with Moscow as “constructive and critical”, and stressed that the only way out of the pandemic was for the world community to work together.

SEE ALSO: Germany moves to bring Russian vaccine into EU

A Health Ministry spokeswoman told AFP that Russia had already reached out to German biotechnology firm IDT Biologika to discuss jointly making the Sputnik vaccine.

But the vaccine is still controversial among some scientists in Europe.

Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, from the European Medicine Agency (EMA) told an Austrian TV station that “there’s still too much that isn’t known about the vaccine and key data is missing.”

“Therefore, I would strongly advise against issuing a national emergency authorisation.”

Case rate falls

On Wednesday the Robert Koch Institute confirmed that 9,146 new infections with the virus have been reported in the past 24 hours as well as a further 300 deaths.

The numbers represent a continuation of the recent flatlining in cases. A week ago 9,019 new cases were reported.

The 7-day incidence fell on Wednesday to 65.4 from 67.5 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. Four weeks ago that seven-day incidence stood at 68 per 100,000.

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Vaccine scramble: How Spaniards want Covid jabs more than other Europeans

Whilst the EU warns that unused doses due to vaccine scepticism are piling up, Spaniards of all ages want to achieve immunity against Covid-19 as soon as possible, the data shows. 

Vaccine scramble: How Spaniards want Covid jabs more than other Europeans
People queue to get the vaccine in Barcelona. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

In Spain, where the Covid-19 rollout has gone from one of the slowest in the EU to currently one of the fastest, pretty much everyone wants to get vaccinated. 

With priority groups almost fully immunised, Spain is still beating daily records with 600,000 to 700,000 doses administered every day. 

The spike in cases among the country’s young population has led several regions to bring forward jabs for teens and twenty-somethings ahead of people in their thirties.

Despite the apparent lack of concern for the pandemic witnessed  in packed squares and streets over the past weeks, young people who have been able to take advantage of the vaccine offer have headed en masse to the vaccination centres. 

When an Asturian youth called Ana Santos told a local newspaper that “after the elderly, it should be our turn to get vaccinated as it’s not as if people in their forties go out, is it?”, her comments went down like a tonne of bricks among this age group, who demanded it was their turn to reach full immunisation first. 

Vaccine scepticism hasn’t been a problem for Spain as it has been for other countries, with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen launching a warning recently that vaccine supplies are piling up, even though Brussels has reached its target of providing enough doses to fully vaccinate 70 percent of EU adults.

“If we look at the statistics, more and more doses remain unused,” von der Leyen told journalists in Strasbourg.

“This is linked to the fact that there is a greater distribution of vaccines, but in part also due to doubts about vaccination,” adding that it was crucial to reach the most sceptical parts of the population” in the face of the “worrying” presence of the Delta variant.

“Traditionally in Spain, we have had much less resistance or rejection towards vaccines, that’s always been the case,” vaccine expert at the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) Ángel Hernández-Merino told 20minutos. 

“In any vaccination programme, it’s vital to count on the population being willing to accept the vaccination”.

A June 2021 Eurobarometer study found that 49 percent of people in Spain want to get vaccinated “as soon as possible”, the highest rate in the entire EU (32 percent EU average). 

Whereas an average of 9 percent of EU citizens don’t ever want to get vaccinated, the rate in Spain is 4 percent.  Around 63 percent of Spaniards told Eurobarometer that they couldn’t understand why people are hesitant to get vaccinated and 71 percent said Covid vaccines are the only way for the pandemic to end. 

In Belgium, around a third of the population doesn’t want to get vaccinated.

In other countries where in the earlier stages of the Covid vaccination campaign it seemed  that available doses were easily used up it’s now becoming evident that sprinting through the age groups doesn’t guarantee that everyone is being vaccinated. 

Germany, the UK and the US, all seen as examples to Spain of how to quickly immunise a population, have all seen their campaigns slow down due to hesitancy and the summer holidays.

Spain’s Health Ministry doesn’t give data on how many people have rejected the vaccine and why, but stats do show that already more than half of the population (57.5 percent) have at least one dose and 43.3 percent are fully vaccinated. 

The Spanish government has stuck to its objective of vaccinating 70 percent of the country’s 47 million people before the end of August, even though it did fall short of its June target by more than half a million doses. 

Rather than vaccine scepticism, what’s been holding up Spain’s inoculation campaign have been doubts over the administration of second AstraZeneca vaccines and the decision to keep a reserve in case the country experienced delivery setbacks as it has in the past, with 2.9 million doses in storage reported in late June.