The move opens a viable pathway for Russian and Chinese vaccine use in one of the most severely affected countries in Europe.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Andrej Babis appointed his fourth health minister since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had hit the Czech Republic heavily, amid growing pressure to search for vaccines from Russia and possibly China.
Petr Arenberger, Director of the Prague Vinohrady University Hospital, replaced Jan Blatny and was sworn in by President Milos Zeman.
Blatny took this job in October, just as COVID-19 infection was spiking in the Czech Republic.
The three peaks of the pandemic killed more than 27,000 people and put the country at the top of the global rankings for the number of deaths per capita, according to website Our World in Data.
Blatny’s sacking comes after Babis blamed him for his alleged lack of support for the new COVID-19 drugs and his attempt to use the trial to reopen schools.
Blatny has also strongly opposed following Central European ally Hungary in the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine before European Union regulators approve it, leaving him face-to-face with the President. Zeman.
Zeman has voiced support for the use of Russian and other Chinese-developed firearms and has asked Blatny to fire.
“Each of us should try to get as much vaccine as possible,” said Zeman, taking his oath to Arenberger. “Unfortunately, your predecessor… [has] blocked this process. “
Blatny dismissed the criticism and said he only allowed the use of approved vaccines to make sure people “they are safe, tested and really effective”.
“And the same goes for drugs that fight COVID,” he said. “My decisions are always based on scientific data and analysis.”
Deployment of vaccines was slow
Babis said Sputnik V could be an option for the country due to the slow deployment of approved vaccines from the EU.
He will hold a press conference with Arenberger, who is said to have said he will not oppose the use of the Russian-made injection in a clinical trial, late on Wednesday.
The Czech Republic is one of the slowest immunization rollers in the EU and may receive the least dose mid-year after the bloc’s over-distribution.
Arenberger took over as the government loosened some restrictions on shutoffs since the cases had eased recently and tensions on hospitals have eased.
From Monday, some schools will reopen and free travel across the country, which has been banned since March 1, will be allowed.
Blatny, an expert in pediatric hematology, was deputy director of the University Hospital in the Czech city of Brno before he became minister of health on October 29.
He replaces the epidemiologist Roman Prymula, who was fired after being photographed when he visited a restaurant that should have closed as part of a lockdown.