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Hungary Nears Herd Immunity, Starts Vaccine Diplomacy

Int’l Relations

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó (left) meets with Rui Figueiredo, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cape Verde, in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, on June 8, 2021. Hungary is donating 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine to the Atlantic Ocean archipelago.

Photo by MTI / Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade / Mátyás Borsos.

Hungary is “close to reaching community immunity” against the coronavirus, Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, said at a recent weekly press briefing, according to state news agency MTI. Gulyás noted “about 54%” of Hungary’s population has been inoculated against the coronavirus, but the rate including Hungarians who are immune after recovering from COVID is “certainly over 60%, and could be around 65-70%.”

In light of the advancing vaccination campaign and the burgeoning economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán outlined measures that could support the rebound, including a tax rebate for lower income families, state-subsidized credit for SMEs, and a higher minimum wage, at a conference organized by leading business daily Világgazdaság (Global Economy). Orbán later stated that these measures would be included in a national consultation to gauge people’s views on these proposals.

Since the vaccination campaign has reached such an advanced stage, Hungary has switched its mass COVID vaccination rollout to “standby” mode, Orbán said in a weekly interview on Kossuth Rádió.

“Maintaining the inoculation system we have at present, one that poses an extraordinary burden for doctors and hospitals, is not reasonable, which is why we’ll switch over from mass inoculation to standby inoculation,” he said.

With the mass vaccination phase now passed and Hungary being so flushed with vaccines, it has started loaning or donating large quantities of vaccines to other countries.

For instance, Hungary lent 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine to Slovenia on June 2. Slovenian Minister of Health Janez Poklukar thanked Hungary for the loan of the jabs and said Slovenia would like to return the same volume of vaccine to Hungary “by the end of summer or autumn at the latest, as we get the chance.”

Additionally, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó loaned 41,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine to the Czech Republic on June 4. Czech government spokesperson Jana Adamcová said the same volume of vaccine would be returned to Hungary when the Czech Republic has enough of its own.

Finally, Hungary donated an additional 100,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine to Cape Verde on June 8.

Self-made

In addition to providing these vaccine exports, Hungary is also giving more thought to its own vaccine production capabilities. According to Szijjártó, talks have started on strategic cooperation between Hungary’s national vaccine center and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is in charge of vaccine production in Russia.

Szijjártó said an agreement “in principle” had been reached on Russia allowing Hungary to produce its Sputnik V COVID vaccine or other Russian vaccines.

In the meantime, for those already vaccinated, the question of where their immunity certificates will be accepted is at hand. Earlier, Gulyás said Hungary’s digital COVID immunity certificate would comply with rules that apply to the European Union’s green certificate by June 15. In line with EU rules, the digital version of the immunity certificate will contain the inoculation dates and the type of vaccination, he added.

Gulyás added that the EU rules come into force from July 1. Meanwhile, Hungary’s immunity certificates have been accepted in over a dozen countries, the latest additions to the list including Albania, Cyprus, and Slovakia.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 18, 2021.

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