An internal investigation at a hospital in the eastern Estonian town of Narva is underway after daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) reported that an outgoing, high-level Russian diplomat received the full coronavirus vaccine dose at the facility, a few days before returning to Russia and despite Kremlin-backing media calling western COVID-19 vaccines dangerous.
While the circumstances which led to Yuri Gribkov, Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Narva, getting both first and second Pfizer/BioNTech vaccinations have yet to be established, and are pending the internal investigation at the Ida-Viru Central Hospital (Ida-Viru keskhaigla), the report comes amid Russian's strong drive to promote its own Coronavirus vaccine, dubbed Sputnik V, ahead of western products such as Pfizer's.
EPL reported on its site (link in Estonian) that one of its journalists and photographers observed an Audi displaying diplomatic license plates and bearing Yuri Gribkov drive from the town of Kohtla-Järve, a little over 50 km west of Narva, to the Ida-Viru Central Hospital, where Gribkov was snapped entering and leaving the premises.
Gribkov: I was offered vaccine in early January
When approached by the reporter on leaving the hospital, at around lunchtime Wednesday, Gribkov, 65, admitted he had received a second coronavirus vaccination at the hospital, adding that he had an underlying serious health condition which led to him being offered on January 2 the opportunity to get inoculated. Coronavirus vaccines had started being administered in Estonia a week earlier.
Gribkov added that he would be leaving Estonia to return to the Russian Federation next Monday, as his term in office as Consulate General is scheduled to finish, which was why he had been in a hurry to get both vaccine doses, and complete the course of vaccination.
Sputnik V's official website calls the coronavirus vaccine the first of its kind registered internationally, but questions have arisen about the haste with which it was put together and whether it had undergone sufficient testing.
Russian state media in Sputnik V global media drive
In turn, Russian state media and social media channels have amplified claims that western-made vaccines such as those made by Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna are not safe and have been responsible for deaths among those receiving them.
Large scale vaccinations started in Russia in December, while Russia has rolled-out Sputnik V, properly called Gam-COVID-Vac, to foreign countries which have ordered it, including Hungary, China, India, Brazil and Argentina.
Estonia's vaccination program follows an EU-wide procurement process, in conjunction with the European Commission.
Senior doctor at the Ida-Viru Central Hospital Veronika Iljina denied having vaccinated Gribkov after being asked about it by EPL, saying he was a long-standing outpatient at the hospital, later asking for documentation connected with the vaccinations and questioning Gribkkov's own claims, the paper reported.
Hospital board chair: Internal investigation underway
The hospital's board chair, Tarmo Bakler, told EPL he had only heard about the vaccinations via the media, adding that an internal investigation was underway.
"In this third decade of the 21st century, such incidents cannot happen without verifiable explanations, and they cannot go unanswered," Bakler said.
Yuri Gribkov himself called the vaccinations he received a human gesture on the part of the hospital, and even told EPL that referring to the Pfizer vaccine as a "vaccine of death" was wrong.
He said: "Every journalist writes what they want or what their editor wants. I personally know that all our staff are happy to be vaccinated with Pfizer [vaccines], and none of them permit it to be referred to as a 'death vaccine'."
Ida-Viru Central Hospital's preliminary conclusions from its internal investigation are promised within a few days.
Coronavirus vaccines in Estonia are prioritized towards front-line healthcare workers first, though still on a voluntary basis. Over 25,000 people have been vaccinated in Estonia at the time of writing, over 6,000 of them the second time, the Health Board (Terviseamet) says.
Editor: Andrew Whyte