Ukraine delays introducing Sinovac vaccine as coronavirus cases hit record

a person holding a sign: Women walk past an installation showing a protective face mask amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Kyiv © Reuters/VALENTYN OGIRENKO Women walk past an installation showing a protective face mask amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Kyiv

By Natalia Zinets

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine will take about 10 days for laboratory checks on its first shipment of Chinese Sinovac vaccines before distributing them to regional hospitals, the deputy health minister said, as COVID-19 cases spiked to a record on Friday.

Ukraine got its first batch of 215,000 Sinovac doses late on Thursday to boost its vaccination programme, which has lagged behind other European countries and has so far relied on a single batch of AstraZeneca vaccines from India.

But the independent medical procurement agency (MPU) this week signalled the vaccine's use would be delayed because Sinovac's local partner, Lekhim, did not provide the necessary paperwork.

Lekhim said it notified the agency about the impending shipment but did not receive a response.

"If the laboratory control is successfully passed, it (the vaccine) will be ... delivered to the regions," Deputy Health Minister Viktor Lyashko told a televised briefing.

Ukraine began vaccinating its 41 million people in late February after procuring 500,000 doses of CoviShield, the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

But only 174,325 people had received their first jabs by March 26. The government has fought an uphill battle against fears about the vaccine's safety and efficacy, citing data that around half the population did not want the vaccine.

In a separate briefing, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said "criticism of the CoviShield vaccine is unfounded", adding that "the targeted information attack on the CoviShield vaccine has being carried out in different countries".

He said it was unclear when Ukraine could expect its next shipment, since India had suspended vaccine exports.

Ukraine reached a daily record of 18,132 new coronavirus cases on Friday, with 31,461 coronavirus-related deaths in total.

(Editing by Matthias Williams, Larry King)

Ukraine delays introducing Sinovac vaccine as coronavirus cases hit record