President Vladimir Putin on Monday dismissed foreign criticism of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and said he would get the jab himself on Tuesday.
Speaking at a televised meeting with health officials, the 68-year-old Russian leader described recent remarks in Europe questioning the need for the Russian vaccine as “strange”.
“We are not imposing anything on anyone… Whose interests are such people protecting — of pharmaceutical companies or the interests of citizens of European countries?”
“Vaccination is of course the voluntary choice of every person… By the way, I intend to do it myself tomorrow,” he said.
Russia has heavily promoted the state-sponsored vaccine abroad but it has been met with scepticism in the West and even by many in Russia.
Russia registered the vaccine in August, ahead of large-scale clinical trials, sparking concern among many experts over the fast-track process.
Later reviews have been largely positive, with leading medical journal The Lancet publishing results showing it safe and more than 90 percent effective.
“Despite the deliberate discrediting of our vaccine, more and more countries are showing interest in it,” Putin said.
Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said during the meeting that experts from the European Medicines Agency will travel to Russia on April 10 to review clinical trials conducted on the vaccine.
The Amsterdam-based EMA this month launched a rolling review of Sputnik V, a key step towards it being approved as the first non-Western coronavirus jab to be used across the 27-nation bloc.
– Vaccine scepticism –
On Sunday EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said Europe had “absolutely no need for Sputnik V,” sparking a fierce response from Moscow.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which backed the development of Sputnik, accused Breton of being “clearly biased” against the jab because it was Russian.
“Europeans want a choice of safe and efficient vaccines, which you so far failed to provide,” the RDIF said on Twitter.
It says that Sputnik V has been approved for use in 55 countries.
If Breton’s remarks were an official position of the EU,” it said, “please inform us that there is no reason to pursue EMA approval because of your political biases.”
More than four million Russians have received two doses of a vaccine, and more than six million people one dose, Putin said on Monday.
Many in Russia are sceptical about being vaccinated, with a poll earlier this month showing less than a third willing to have a jab, and close to two-thirds saying they believe that the coronavirus is a man-made biological weapon.
By Monday, Russia had registered more than 4.4 million cases of the coronavirus and more than 95,000 deaths.