Ukraine health minister: ‘information attacks’ will impact vaccine procurement

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The Ukrainian health minister said on Tuesday that Kyiv’s vaccine purchases were being hampered by “dirty information attacks” that had triggered a corruption probe against his ministry.

Maksym Stepanov denied wrongdoing after the anti-corruption agency NABU this month launched a probe into the procurement of China’s Sinovac vaccines through an intermediary importer, Lekhim.

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Ukraine lags behind most European countries in procuring COVID-19 vaccines and has yet to start mass vaccination.

The corruption row deepened this week when the government announced new legislation on NABU’s status, which a leading activist group, AntAC, described as revenge for the probe.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegation.

The text of the bill, which needs parliament’s approval to become law, has not been made public.

Any threat to the independence of NABU, which was set up with the backing of Western donors, could further derail the flow of foreign aid to Ukraine at a time when its economy has been hammered by coronavirus lockdowns.

But Stepanov said it was the corruption allegations that were costing Ukraine dear.

“Due to dirty information attacks, we have already started to receive reluctance from prospective vaccine companies regarding future cooperation,” he told a morning briefing.

Stepanov said the disinformation was intended to disrupt Ukraine’s vaccination campaign and force it to turn to Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Kyiv has dismissed the idea of buying Sputnik because of enduring anger over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Last week, Reuters reported that shipments of the Sinovac vaccine could be delayed until April.

Ukraine is counting on more loans from a $5 billion International Monetary Fund program this year, but the IMF on Saturday said Kyiv needed to implement more reforms first.

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