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Russia offered Sputnik vaccine technology to Finland, Halonen confirms

Russian authorities made the offer during a phone call between the former president and a Russian politician.

Tarja Halonen
Former President Tarja Halonen contacted Russian authorities on behalf of the World Health Organisation, broadcaster MTV reported. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Former President Tarja Halonen has confirmed in an interview with commercial broadcaster MTV that Russian authorities offered the manufacturing technology for the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to Finland.

According to the broadcaster, Halonen contacted Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, at the request of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO request related to the approval process for the Sputnik vaccine, not the supply of production technology.

"I thanked her for the information and said that, of course, I have no authority to say anything more about it. Other than taking the matter forward in the government to Minister (Krista) Kiuru (SDP)," Halonen told MTV.

Russian news agency Tass reported on Friday that Russia was ready to supply Finland with technology suitable for the production of the Sputnik V vaccine, adding that the matter had been raised during a telephone conversation between Halonen and Matvijenko.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (STM) told Finnish news agency STT that there was no information about Halonen's discussions.

"The information we have, is the information that has been given to Halonen regarding coronavirus vaccines in general. That is, she has received background information from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on various issues," a ministry official told STT.

The ministry added that Halonen is conducting her own work as a member of the WHO’s European Covid-19 Group, and she had been provided with background information on vaccines with regard to this role.

'There is already vaccine expertise in Finland'

Hanna Nohynek, a vaccinologist with the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), told Yle that she also did not know in advance about the discussion between Halonen and Matvijenko.

The Sputnik V vaccine is currently being evaluated by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the granting of a marketing authorisation.

"In Finland, there is expertise on how to make adenovirus vector vaccines. The University of Eastern Finland, together with the University of Helsinki, has been conducting work in this area for a long time” Nohynek said.

However, scaling the technology to meet the criteria for the production of a marketing authorisation vaccine will, of course, take its time, Nohynek added.

Controversy over vaccination speed

Finland's coronavirus vaccine supply is currently determined by the European Union's vaccine procurement programme.

The speed of the vaccine rollout nationwide has prompted calls for the government to study alternative options in recent days.

On Thursday, former director of the University of Tampere's Vaccine Research Centre, Timo Vesikari, told daily tabloid Ilta-Sanomat that Finland could source vaccines from outside the EU's programme.

Such vaccines include Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinovac. Vesikari told the paper both vaccines had been shown to be effective.

But contracting for either, he said, was first and foremost a matter of politics.

"Russia is too politically sensitive for Finland. Finland's political leadership would not break ranks with the EU and buy Sputnik from Russia while the EU has sanctions in place. Instead, China could be politically easier for the EU and for Finland," Vesikari said.

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