PRAGUE — Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný was fired on Wednesday after refusing to support efforts to purchase Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine.
He is replaced by Petr Arenberger, the director of the Royal Vinohrady University Hospital in Prague, who becomes the country’s fourth health minister since the coronavirus epidemic broke out just over a year ago.
President Miloš Zeman called for Blatný’s dismissal last month for his refusal to use the Russian jab without approval by the European Medicines Agency.
The Czech president is close to the Kremlin and has been an active proponent of Sputnik V, which has not been approved by the EMA or the Czech drugs regulator SÚKL. According to local media, Arenberger is not averse to using the Russian vaccine after a clinical study is carried out.
“Each of us should strive to have as many effective vaccines as possible,” Zeman said at a press conference after officially appointing Arenberger. “But, unfortunately, your predecessor and the director of the SÚKL blocked the process.”
In March Zeman demanded both Blatný and SÚKL Director Irena Storová be fired, but Prime Minister Andrej Babiš at the time refused the demand. Since then, Babiš has come under heavy criticism at home for rejecting an EU deal that would have seen the Czech Republic receive extra doses of vaccines.
It remains to be seen if Storová suffers the same fate as Blatný. With elections six months away and Babiš’s party losing popularity, the prime minister is under pressure to have the epidemic under control by summer’s end. If Storová remains in post, the health ministry could bypass the drugs regulator by exceptionally authorizing the vaccine.
The Czech Republic has the highest per-capita COVID death rate in the world, according to the latest figures.
Blatný was only named to the health post in October, after his predecessor, Roman Prymula, was caught breaking lockdown rules.