Slovakia received its first shipment of the Russian-made Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik V on Monday, with the prime minister and health minister at the airport to personally see the first 200,000 doses arrive.
Speaking at the airport in the city of Kosice, Prime Minister Igor Matovic said he expects the Russian jabs to start going into the arms of about 100,000 residents over the next two weeks.
Matovic announced that Slovakia had ordered a total of 2 million vaccine doses from Russia, which would be delivered gradually through June.
"This will allow Slovakia to accelerate its vaccination pace by more than 40 per cent," the prime minister said.
Until shortly before landing in Kosice, the government had kept it a secret that it had sent a plane to Russia to pick up the vaccines.
An aircraft carrying the Sputnik V vaccine arrives from Moscow at Kosice International Airport. Photo: Frantiek Iván/dpa.
The purchase of the Russian vaccine before it is endorsed for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has stirred controversy within the Central European country's four-party coalition.
But amid major shortfalls of Western European and US-made vaccines in the 27-nation European Union, some countries have been turning to Russia and China for supplies.
Matovic defied a decision by his own government when he encouraged Health Minister Marek Krajci to order the vaccine.
"Doing the right thing sometimes requires nothing but courage," Matovic said in a defence of his decision on Facebook Monday evening.
The Czech Republic is also expecting a delivery of the Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, according to Czech President Milos Zeman. Zeman told CNN Prima News on Saturday he went directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin with the request, which he expected to be granted.
In February, Hungary started administering the Russian vaccine, becoming the first EU country to do so.
Sputnik V was released in Russia in August as the world's first vaccine for widespread use. According to data published in early February in the medical journal The Lancet, the vaccine has an efficacy rate of 91.6 per cent.