During a high-profile interview on CNN, an unusually maskless Health Minister Chris Fearne urged the EU to start negotiating with Russia from now for the potential procurement of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine.
“Right now, the European Medicines Agency is evaluating the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, but I believe there’s scope even now for the European Commission to start negotiating with the Russian authorities to ensure that if the vaccine is approved, it will be available as a joint procurement through the EU’s advance procurement mechanism,” Fearne said.
The EMA has so far approved four vaccines as safe and effective – those produced by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and most recently Johnson & Johnson.
Statistics show that Malta has vaccinated more people pro-rata than any other EU member state by far, with Fearne confirming with CNN that around a quarter of the population has received at least one dose.
He dismissed recent complaints by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz that the EU has given Malta preferential treatment, arguing that the island’s strategy was to procure as many doses possible through the European Commission’s framework agreement.
“We over-invested, it’s true, but it means we’re getting larger vaccine numbers in the first and second quarters of 2021.”
He added that Malta immediately uses all vaccines as soon as they arrive, either by vaccinating people or by keeping them in storage as second doses.
“We have a very robust national health system, we’re efficient and we don’t have a dead inventory that isn’t being used. We procured a lot of vaccines and we’re using all our stock.”
Although the EU is trailing behind the UK and the US in terms of vaccine distribution, Fearne defended the European Commission’s joint procurement mechanism and said similar mechanisms should be utilised to procure other drugs in the future.
“We’ve been pushing for this kind of mechanism for years, but we only managed to establish it because the pandemic pushed us all together,” he said. “I think it’s been an important success which we need to recognise and replicate.”
“Despite the criticism, the alternative of not having procured together would have been much worse; some countries would have received the vaccine and some wouldn’t even have had it now. It’s certainly allowed Malta to be able to vaccinate at such a high rate.”