The tiny micronation receiving a 'boom' in calls from people trying to buy COVID vaccines

·4-min read
SAN MARINO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 25: A worker with a vial of Sputnik vaccine during the Covid-19 vaccination campaign on February 25, 2021 in San Marino, Italy. The vaccination campaign for Covid-19 with Russian Sputnik vaccine for 25 healthcare workers started today. (Photo by Michele Lapini/Getty Images)
A worker with a vial of the Sputnik vaccine. (Getty Images)

San Marino has been receiving a “boom” in calls from people in neighbouring regions trying to buy their COVID vaccines.

The microstate, which is landlocked within central Italy, started administering doses of Russia’s Sputnik V jab last week, according to Italian media outlets.

San Marino had previously signed an agreement with Rome to receive one of every 1,700 vaccine doses arriving in Italy through the EU’s procurement programme.

However, the vaccines failed to arrive due to complex and lengthy bureaucratic procedures as well as widespread EU shortages.

Read: 'People are letting down their guard': COVID cases increase across Europe for first time in 2021

San Marino, which has suffered one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates, has now turned to Russia by signing a deal for its Sputnik V vaccine.

After receiving the first batch of 7,500 doses last Tuesday, the microstate has now been able to start its programme to vaccinate its 35,000 residents.

Authorities say only San Marino residents will be given the Sputnik vaccine with the exception for health workers crossing the border.

SAN MARINO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 25: The exterior of the Institute for Social Security
The Institute for Social Security "Ospedale di Stato" of the Republic of San Marino as the vaccine programme begins. (Getty Images)

Secretary of state for Health Roberto Ciavatta told Italian TV last week: "We tried to work with friendly countries, we have tried every path, but it is extremely late, so we went with what the market made available."

However, San Marino has now seen a “boom” in calls from people in neighbouring regions - like Emilia-Romagna and the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino - trying to acquire Sputnik doses despite the fact it hasn’t been approved in these countries, according to Il Messaggero.

Alessandra Bruschi, director of social security in San Marino, also told the Italian publication AGI: "From Italian citizens residing mostly in Romagna, we are getting requests to buy dosages.”

Watch: Russia's Sputnik V vaccine is 91.6% effective

Meanwhile, Raffaele Donini, the representative for health in the regional authority of Emilia Romagna, spoke to Rai News, reminding people that "the Russian vaccine has not been approved and therefore for us, at this stage, cannot be administered."

It comes as Italy’s vaccine efforts have been hampered by the delay in the EU receiving its ordered doses.

EU governments came under fire over a slow start to vaccinations in the bloc, with critics pointing to progress made in the UK, Israel and the US as evidence of a planning failure in Brussels.

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said that the bloc was lagging because of a more rigorous approvals process.

The EU has also been rocked by several vaccine suppliers saying they could not deliver their previous commitments.

SAN MARINO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 25: Newsstand bulletin boards with newspapers about Vaccination Day in the Republic of San Marino with the Russian vaccine Sputnik on February 25, 2021 in San Marino, Italy. The vaccination campaign for Covid-19 with Russian Sputnik vaccine for 25 healthcare workers started today. (Photo by Michele Lapini/Getty Images)
Newsstand bulletin boards with newspapers about Vaccination Day in the Republic of San Marino. (Getty Images)

Von der Leyen said supply problems should ease in the second quarter of 2021, but increasing production remained a challenge.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right Northern League, and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi have both called for Sputnik to be approved in Italy to help speed up the rollout.

The scientific journal The Lancet and Spallanzani of Rome provided positive reviews on the Sputnik, both for safety and efficacy, set at 91.6%, according to Il Messaggero.

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But Agostino Ceccarini, the doctor responsible for anti-COVID prophylaxis in San Marino, suggested the Sputnik vaccine has yet to be approved for “geopolitical” rather than health reasons.

He told the publication: “It seems to me, more of a geopolitical problem than a health one, perhaps also due to the conflicts that have occurred in recent months between Russia and the EU on extra-health issues."

Kremlin critics have also warned that Moscow is using the vaccine to expand its influence in Europe, according to Politico.

These efforts began in the first wave last spring when medical supplies airlifted by Russia to Italy were emblazoned with the slogan “from Russia with love”.

WATCH: Explainer: Inside Europe's fight for COVID shots

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