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Austria in talks to purchase Sputnik V vaccine from Russia, says Chancellor Kurz

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Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has previously called on the EU to address "vaccine inequality" across the bloc.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has previously called on the EU to address "vaccine inequality" across the bloc.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Ronald Zak
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Austria has announced that it is in talks with Russia to buy one million doses of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that the purchase would allow "500,000 people to be vaccinated from April onwards," according to the APA news agency.

A statement from his office said 300,000 Sputnik V doses would be delivered in April, another 500,000 in May, and 200,000 doses at the beginning of June.

"If Austria receives one million additional doses of vaccines, we will be able to return to normality more quickly, save many lives and jobs," Kurz said.

A "non-disclosure agreement for the sharing of confidential documents has already been signed", Kurz's office told the APA news agency.

The Russian jab is currently under review by the European Medicines Agency and has not yet been approved for use in the bloc.

However, Hungary has already begun inoculating citizens with the vaccine, while other member states - Slovakia and the Czech Republic - have also begun negotiations to supplement vaccine stocks outside of the EU.

Sputnik V has been authorised in 58 countries in total, according to the Russian Sovereign Wealth Fund (RDIF), but European countries have accused Moscow of using its vaccine as a geopolitical tool.

"There should be no geopolitical borders," Kurz said on Tuesday, "the only thing that should matter is whether the vaccine is effective and safe."

The Austrian Chancellor had previously discussed the possibility of purchasing Sputnik V during a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Western governments were initially sceptical of the vaccine's efficacy after Russia approved it in August last year without waiting for the results of full clinical trials.

But a February study by the Lancet medical journals found that the jab was almost 92% effective in fighting COVID-19.

Earlier this month, Kurz criticised the EU for its vaccination programme and claimed that jabs had been distributed unequally.

But the Austrian Chancellor has also been condemned by opposition parties for failing to buy all available vaccines under the EU’s collective purchasing scheme.

The senior official in charge of vaccine purchases has since been replaced.

In neighbouring Slovakia, the decision to purchase Russia's Sputnik V vaccine without approval from the coalition on Tuesday led to the collapse of Prime Minister Igor Matovic's government.