Eastern Jabs to Speed Vaccinations as Consultation Launched

Government

The opening page of the government’s latest national consultation, “On the Restart,” which is being handled online this time. The text reads, “On this page you can register for the restart consultation. Once you have entered your details, you can complete the consultation questionnaire by opening a link sent to your email address. You will receive this after registration, please look for the confirmation message in your email account! The multi-step registration process serves security purposes.”

The Hungarian Parliament voted to extend the government’s state-of-emergency powers for 90 days on February 22, in order, it was argued, to better manage the coronavirus crisis. MPs approved the extension with a vote of 133 for, 55 against and one abstention.

Earlier this month, Hungarian President János Áder said pandemic restrictions could hopefully be eased in Hungary by May if the rate of vaccination against COVID-19 progresses well. He hoped that the pace of inoculation could be accelerated “by Easter, or in the period after Easter at the latest.”

Comments emphasizing the importance of scaling up vaccinations were also reiterated by Dr. János Slavik, the chief infectious diseases physician of the South Pest Central Hospital.

“As many people as possible should be vaccinated as quickly as possible to reduce the size of the third wave of the coronavirus epidemic,” he told public media on February 20. Slavik said the number of new infections and deaths per day shows that a third wave had started in Hungary. He said this may be due to the presence of the more contagious Kent variant from Britain, as has also been suggested by chief medical officer Dr. Cecília Müller.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told Kossuth Rádió in his weekly interview that 2.448 million Hungarians have thus far registered for COVID-19 vaccinations, as of February 12. All Hungarians who have registered to date could be inoculated by Easter, if a Chinese vaccine is added to the mix, he said.

The following week, Orbán updated the figure, saying that by early April, 2.582 million Hungarians will have been inoculated against the coronavirus and added that the figure could reach 6.8 million by the end of May or early June.

Task Force

Major strides furthering vaccinations are being made this week. At a press conference for the Operational Corps on February 23, István György, who heads the task force coordinating the vaccine rollout, said the number of Hungarians inoculated against the coronavirus was expected to climb over 800,000 during the week.

He said that in addition to the BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines acquired as part of a joint European Union order, Hungary had added Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm vaccine to its vaccine portfolio.

Currently, the Russian and Chinese doses account for more than 40% of the COVID-19 vaccines delivered to Hungary thus far, according to data from the official government website koronavirus.gov.hu.

Hungary received 100,000 doses in its second delivery of the Sputnik V vaccine on February 22. The first delivery of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine arrived in Hungary on February 16, National Public Health Center (NNK) department head Ágnes Galgóczi said at a press briefing.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said in a video posted on his Facebook page that 50,000 more vaccines had been sent from China than agreed upon, totaling at 550,000.

At an Operational Corps press conference, Müller said the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine elicits a significant, strong response, which “moves” the immune system much better. Many people are confident that it will provide a more lasting, possibly higher, degree of protection, she added.

With mass vaccinations gathering pace, questions about how this will affect the lifting of pandemic restrictions are already being asked. In the ongoing national consultation, the government is asking whether those who have been vaccinated should be exempt from some restrictions, or whether foreign visitors who can document their inoculation should be the only ones allowed in the country.

Other survey questions will address the evening curfew, the opening of hotels, restaurants and sport facilities, and whether restrictions should be lifted gradually or all at once.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 26, 2021.

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