Ukraine launches investigation into COVID-19 vaccine deal

KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine has launched an investigation into whether the government bought a COVID-19 vaccine at inflated prices, an anti-corruption prosecutor said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Vials labelled “COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine” are placed on dry ice in this illustration taken, December 4, 2020. Picture taken December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

Ukraine’s health ministry agreed in December to buy 1.9 million doses of the vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech at $18 per dose via a Ukrainian intermediary, the pharmaceutical firm Lekhim.

Anti-corruption campaigners said the deal was expensive and that the government could have obtained vaccines more cheaply from other sources.

Ukraine’s national anti-corruption bureau (NABU) has opened an investigation into vaccine purchases, Maksym Gryshchyuk, the acting head of Ukraine’s special anti-corruption prosecutor’s office, told a briefing.

“This investigation began in February. It concerns the purchase of vaccines,” Gryshchyuk said.

The health ministry did not immediately comment on the investigation. It has previously said it used Lekhim at Sinovac’s request.

Lekhim declined comment. Sinovac did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Gryshchyuk said he could not mention names or details for legal reasons.

NABU chief Artem Sytnyk, speaking alongside Gryshchyuk, promised to “carry out all investigations as quickly as possible”.

Ukraine has yet to start vaccinating its 41 million people against COVID-19. Reuters reported this week that Lekhim’s shipment of vaccines could face delays.

NABU opened the investigation in response to a request from the Public Control Council at NABU, a non-government watchdog.

Last month, when Ukrainian lawmaker Oleksandra Ustynova suggested Ukraine could have paid less for the vaccine, Health Minister Maksym Stepanov said it was “a shame” when people commented on matters they have “superficial knowledge of”.

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