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COVID-19: EU warns Hungary over use of Russian Sputnik vaccine


Budapest, Hungary – The European Union has given its green light for Hungary to use the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, but warned it must assume “full responsibility”.

Hungary allowed to use Russian COVID-19 vaccine under conditions

Under EU law, a coronavirus vaccine must receive the approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) before being allowed to be purchased and distributed.

But a 2001 EU directive leaves room for an exemption and allows the use of unauthorized and unlicensed vaccines “in response to the suspected or confirmed spread of pathogenic agents, toxins, chemical agents or nuclear radiation, any of which could cause harm”.

This loophole would allow Hungary to invoke emergency procedures in order to use the Sputnik vaccine developed by Russia against COVID-19, which hasn’t been tested by European regulators. Other European countries are reportedly making plans to allow the distribution of vaccines before its approval by health regulators.

“This comes, of course, with the liability for the member state. As far as we are concerned, we are very much in favour of an authorization through the EMA”, EU Commission spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker told reporters. “We believe this definitely is a procedure that is very important to ensure safety towards our EU citizens”.

The EU Commission also warned that Hungary would have to keep the vaccine within its borders and that it “cannot be circulated elsewhere in the European Union other than Hungary”.

Hungary looks east for coronavirus vaccine

Breaking ranks with the EU Commission’s plan to acquire coronavirus vaccines as a bloc, Hungary announced a few weeks ago it was planning to purchase the Russian vaccine and became last month the first European country to receive samples of the drug for tests.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto added negotiations were underway with Moscow for a possible domestic production of the vaccine.

Although the Sputnik V vaccine was hailed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine, the European Medicines Agency and health experts have urged caution against its use and have yet to assess it.

Hungary’s decision to go against the EU’s vaccine strategy and turn to Russia, a key pillar of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s foreign policy, has also sparked controversy at home.

“Government propaganda”

“Maybe it will be safe and effective, but this is less about the virus or the vaccine, and more about government propaganda telling us that, when in trouble, the Russians are friends who help us first”, said health expert with the opposition New World party Gabriella Lantos.

An Ipsos poll earlier this year found that the Hungarian population remained one of the most sceptic regarding the use of a COVID-19 vaccine (see graph below).

Only 56% of Hungarians declared they would agree to get a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available, the third lowest rate among surveyed countries before Poland and Russia.

Source: Ipsos

Coordinated by Ábel Bede, Kafkadesk's Budapest office is made up of a growing team of freelance journalists, editors and fact-checkers passionate about Hungarian affairs and dedicated to bringing you all the latest news, events and insights from Hungary.