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Hungary Looking to Spread its Vaccine Net

In Hungary

Chief physician László Bora (right) injects a resident with the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at the Heves County Harmony United Social Institution Home for the Elderly in Eger (133 km northeast of Budapest) on January 27, 2021.

Photo by MTI / Péter Komka

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said it is “unacceptable” for Hungarian lives to be lost because of the “slow” pace of delivery of COVID-19 vaccines that are part of a joint European Union procurement in his weekly interview on Kossuth Rádió on January 22.

By procuring additional COVID-19 vaccines outside the joint European Union order, Hungary could have enough vaccines by March to inoculate as many as two million people, according to TV news channel M1. The government calculates that if Hungary relies only on vaccines from the EU order, fewer than 500,000 people will be inoculated by the end of March and restrictions will not be lifted before the end of September, M1 added.

Using a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, in addition to ones that Hungary is getting through the EU, could mean a sooner end to pandemic restrictions, Orbán told Kossuth Rádió. According to him, Hungary has access to more than one million Chinese vaccines that could be made available to people “within days,” but that would depend on how quickly the vaccine can be cleared by Hungarian healthcare authorities “with the necessary circumspection, following regulatory safety protocols.”

Meanwhile, Hungary has signed a contract to acquire Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó told a press conference streamed live on Facebook from Moscow on January 22.

Sputnik OK’d

Hungarian experts in Moscow received reassuring answers to their questions around drug quality and drug safety in connection with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, Director General of the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI) Mátyás Szentiványi told InfoRádió. Accordingly, OGYÉI has issued temporary licenses for COVID-19 vaccines from Russia as well as those developed by AstraZeneca in the United Kingdom.

Some 143,184 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in Hungary thus far, of which 6,944 had already received their second vaccination, as of January 23, according koronavirus.gov.hu. The majority of those vaccinated to date have been healthcare workers, as well as roughly 10,000 people living and working in nursing homes, the latter of whom received the American Moderna vaccine, because it is easier to transport and store.

So far, 1.755 million Hungarians have registered for COVID-19 vaccinations, State Secretary Csaba Dömötör said in a message posted on his Facebook page. About 33% say they have plans to be immunized against COVID-19, while 34% say they “are certain” they will, according to respective surveys from the Central Statistical Office (KSH) and Századvég.

Despite mass immunization being potentially drawn out, thoughts are already starting to wander to what will happen once it has occurred. European Union leaders discussed “the suitability of a common approach” to COVID-19 vaccination certification at a summit on January 21, European Council President Charles Michel said in an invitation letter to the video conference sent to state news agency MTI.

When asked how the introduction of a vaccination card, commonly known as a virus passport, which is expected to be a condition of travel on airlines from March 1, will affect its responsibilities, Budapest Airport said it will comply with the new rules without delay, guaranteeing predictable, epidemiologically safe travel, according to business daily Világgazdaság.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of January 29, 2021.

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