Denník N

Denník N Rejects Russia’s Demand to Withdraw Story on Sputnik Vaccine

Sputnik V v Šarišských Michaľanoch. Foto N – Andrej Bán
Sputnik V v Šarišských Michaľanoch. Foto N – Andrej Bán

The Russian Fund for Direct Investment has asked Denník N to withdraw an earlier story, which cited the Slovak authorities’ assessment of the Sputnik V covid vaccine. Denník N won’t adhere to the request.

The sovereign wealth fund, which financed the development of the Sputnik vaccine and markets it around the world, claims the April 8 article contained incorrect and misleading statements about the jab by the Slovak regulator. The fund known by its acronym RFDI threatened legal action if the story was not removed or at least amended by May 9.

“The story accurately quoted an official statement of the State Institute for Drug Control,” says Matúš Kostolný, editor-in-chief of Denník N. “It stands by its doubts about Sputnik and we see no reason to remove the story.”

Sputnik remains a divisive topic in Slovakia ever since the March decision of then premier Igor Matovič to secure 2 million doses of the Russian vaccine even as it lacked endorsement of the European Medicine Agency. Matovič, whose ratings plummeted after a year of premiership, justified the purchase by a poll, according to which adding the Russian jab to the portfolio of vaccines would raise the interest in inoculation.

This triggered a deep political crisis that ended with a government reshuffle and Matovič losing his job. But not a single of the first 200,000 doses flown in with much fanfare more than two months ago has been administered.

The EMA has started its rolling review, but it may take months until the final assessment of Sputnik is delivered. So far, Hungary remains the only European Union member where the Russian vaccine is used following a green light from the local regulator.

Missing Documents

While member states can use medicines approved by national authorities, the Slovak regulator stopped short of delivering a final verdict on whether the vaccine is safe and efficient. In the statement, which Denník N reprinted in full alongside the disputed article, it said it didn’t have enough information to make the assessment. The vaccine manufacturer failed to deliver about 80% of the required documents, making it impossible to assess whether the Slovak batch is identical with the vaccine used in clinical studies, according to the state institute.

Slovakia is not alone in having doubts about the shot. Brazilian authorities expressed similar concerns about Sputnik when it blocked its imports, citing a lack of reliable and consistent data about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. The decision drew a furor from the vaccine developers.

Matovič continued with his push for Sputnik approval despite being demoted to a finance minister. He agreed with Hungarian premier Viktor Orbán that the Slovak batch of the vaccine will be reviewed in a certified laboratory across the border. The subsequent positive judgment from the Hungarian laboratory “completely debunks” earlier Slovak statements, said RDIF in a letter to Denník N.

On Monday, Matovič announced on Facebook that vaccination with Sputnik will begin “in coming days.” The Health Ministry, which is officially in charge of vaccination, responded by saying it had no information that Russia, which due to a payment dispute technically still owns the Sputnik vaccines shipped to Slovakia, have allowed their use. Meanwhile, the August expiration of the batch is approaching.

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