Hungary’s drug authority approved Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine, called Sputnik, making the nation the first EU member state to allow the use of the vaccine. The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán seeks to speed up the country’s exit from the coronavirus crisis by securing vaccines from Russia and China.
Hungary’s drug authority granted emergency approval for the coronavirus vaccines developed by Russia and AstraZeneca Plc. Hungary is seeking to secure vaccinations from various sources as it claims that the rollout of vaccines purchased by the European Union is too slow.
The government recently announced that it would be procuring a Chinese vaccine from Sinopharm.
As authorities scramble to procure vaccines from all over the globe, the willingness of Hungarians to get inoculated remains low and only a little more than 1% of the population has so far been vaccinated.
Sputnik is readily available
The Russian Sputnik vaccine was approved by the Hungarian authorities following a two-month study. “This is a secure vaccine,” Gergely Gulyás, minister of the Primie Minister’s Office said earlier this week, adding that Germany was also in the process of approving the vaccine.
Hungary expects that Russia will be able to deliver Sputnik V vaccines for the inoculation of 300,000 people by the end of February. The Russian vaccine is available and can be delivered in the promised quantities, unlike some of the other vaccines, the minister added.
Despite the emergency approval, which is for an initial six months, Hungary’s health authority is still reviewing the Russian vaccine in tests and mass inoculations may happen only after its sign-off, state television reported las week, citing the national drug regulator.
Gulyás stressed that the overall aim of the government is to have 70% of the population vaccinated to ensure that current restrictive measures can be lifted as soon as possible and the economy can return to a growth track. This was the rationale behind granting approval to the vaccine developed by the UK’s AstraZeneca, which has not yet been approved by the EU’s drug enforcement agency.
Hungary is also ready to purchase more than a million doses from Sinopharm within days of regulatory approval, Orbán told state radio on Jan. 15. Sinopharm’s vaccine has already been used to vaccinate 15 million people worldwide. The government’s position is that everyone is free to choose the vaccine they want to be inoculated with, but the government wants to make as many vaccines available as possible, Minister Gulyás said.
Economy in the limelight
The government has warned that without accelerating the procurement and administration of vaccines, restrictive measures like an evening curfew and the closure of some businesses could be in effect through the summer. Authorities announced on Jan. 28 that measures including the closure of restaurants, cafes and cultural establishments, as well as a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am would remain in place until 1 March, at least.
Orbán is facing parliamentary elections in 2022, which are expected to be the closest in years after the opposition united against the four-term leader. The premier has pledged to protect the living standards of Hungarians, which will be no small feat considering that the government expects a 6.4% economic decline for 2020.
Looking to the East
Procuring vaccines from countries that the EU hasn’t yet approved isn’t without risks. Chinese and Russian developers have been slow in releasing clinical trial data, raising questions over transparency, efficacy and safety. In addition, raising Hungarians’ trust in vaccines in general – and eastern ones in particular - is also a challenge. Hungarians are slowly overcoming their skepticism of Covid-19 vaccines, with 33% indicating they would get inoculated, compared with 27% who said “No,” according to a survey by the state statistics office published last week. That compared with 15% in favor and 36% against a month earlier.
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