Promise of Summer a Step Nearer


We have been told that “our summer will be sunny and happy” by no less a person than Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. This week, we took the first step toward those “broad, sunlit uplands” (as a different prime minister promised at another time and place, under very different circumstances).

There was precious little time between Orbán’s Facebook video (how very 21st century) announcing on Tuesday that Hungary has now given at least a first COVID vaccination dose to 2.5 million of its citizens, and the reopening of shops and services from Wednesday morning, but few will mind that. (For more details of the relaxed restrictions that were triggered by reaching that inoculation milestone, see our regular coronavirus roundup inside this issue.)

By sheer coincidence, at about the time our PM was making his announcement, I was registering for my vaccination on the official Hungarian government website. The fact that I had not done so previously does not lie in any antivaxxer sentiment. I get that some people are reticent about putting something so recently developed into their arms. The flu vaccines have been around for decades, the COVID jabs for a matter of months, and we can have no real idea of their long term effects on our bodies at this stage. But it is a big step from that legitimate concern to some of the conspiracy theory antivaxxer nonsense you hear about. It seems to me the only way pathway back to travel and something like normalcy and, equally important, to getting our economies operating again will be through vaccination. No, the reasons behind my reticence lie elsewhere.

For a start, since I am not a pensioner, at risk, a front line worker or a teacher, I was never going to be very far up the priority list. Registering when the site was launched was not going to get a needle into my arm any sooner. More than that, though, I want to travel, and not just for a holiday, nice though that would be, but so I can see my 91-year-old mother in her nursing home in the United Kingdom for the first time in what is now approaching 14 months. And therein lies the heart of my dilemma.

The government messaging around the mix of vaccinations Hungary offers has been confusing. Sometimes it has seemed to suggest you won’t get a choice of vaccination, you’ll have to accept what you are offered; on the other hand, the PM himself has said “everyone can choose whichever they trust to be vaccinated with” on more than one occasion, according to Hungary Today. The choice matters because Hungary has ordered a veritable smorgasbord of vaccines to get around EU shortfalls, including doses from Russia and China. I am not indulging in a form a vaccine racism here; I understand that the Sputnik V vaccine works on very similar tried and tested science to that used in the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, but the fact remains that what the government calls its “Eastern” jabs have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency. That means there must be at least a question mark about whether they will be accepted by destination nations. When a government spokesperson was asked this very question, the rather unhelpful answer was along the lines of “we want vaccines, not certificates, from the EU.” Ignoring a potential problem does not mean it does not exist or will just go away.

Interestingly, Croatia, desperate to resuscitate its tourism industry, has said it will accept vaccinations wherever they come from. Who knows, I may be offered one of the European and U.K. approved vaccines, and I can always decline if not. But there is one last concern: The Hungarian certificate apparently does not include the origin of the jab, just the fact that you have had it. Will EU countries or the United Kingdom be as accommodating as the Croatian authorities are apparently willing to be?

Robin Marshall


This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  April 9, 2021.


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