BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – Hungary has approved the coronavirus vaccine made by China’s Sinopharm, becoming the first EU member to approve the Chinese-made COVID-19 shot.
“Today the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition gave its approval for the Sinopharm vaccine,” said Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Muller on Friday.
In his weekly radio interview earlier in the day, Viktor Orbán had already announced an imminent deal with the Chinese manufacturer, adding that he would inoculate himself with the vaccine once it will be his turn in the country’s vaccination schedule.
Without specifying the number of doses arriving, the Hungarian Prime Minister stated that Hungary is currently set to vaccinate 880.000 people by early March, which could be doubled with the delivery of the Chinese vaccine.
New legislation allows for the authorisation of any vaccine that has been given to at least one million people and is being used in at least three countries, with one of those countries being an EU member state or a candidate to join the bloc.
Having already rolled out in Serbia, the Sinopharm vaccine is eligible for use under the new scheme, without having to be examined extensively by the Hungarian authorities, which sparked safety concerns in Hungary. But Orbán defended the decision and argued that the EU’s vaccination programme has to be supplemented with other vaccines due to the slow rollout.
The Sinopharm vaccine becomes the second type of shot to be authorised in Hungary outside the European Commission’s procurement programme after Russia’s Sputnik V.
However, the Hungarian population’s trust is low in the eastern vaccines. Of those who wish to vaccinate themselves, only 27% stated they would do so with a Chinese vaccine and 35% with a Russian one according to a survey conducted by Publicus at the request of Népszava. This is in sharp contrast with the trust levels in EMA approved Pfizer (91%) and Moderna (77%).
The low trust in Sinopharm’s product is likely the reason why Viktor Orbán announced he would opt for the Chinese vaccine once it is his turn in the country’s inoculation schedule.
Orbán also confirmed that Hungary’s current restrictions would remain in place until at least March 1, stating that any loosening now could lead to the reintroduction of tougher measures later. He also offered cause for optimism and stated the country could reopen around Easter.
No decisions have been taken whether the reopening should be a sudden or a gradual process, but the Prime Minister stated that there will be a wider societal consultation regarding the matter in March.
Members of the hospitality sector are organising an act of civil disobedience by reopening in February despite the restrictions to protest the government’s lack of support for the sector. Orbán appeared to accept at least some criticism for the slow distribution of financial support and pledged to accelerate the process, while warning that individuals would face fines if they reopen.
The Prime Minister appeared satisfied with the current state of vaccinations as both healthcare workers and care home workers and residents will be vaccinated by the end of this week. The vaccination of the general population will start next week, with the registered elderly first in the queue.
Hungary vaccinated 1.8% of its population so far, which places the country 20th in the EU.
Though Orbán appeared to criticise the European Commission for the slow rollout of its vaccine programme, the Prime Minister finished the interview by speaking positively of Brussels for its role in the economic recovery and stated that the Hungarian government will be the closest ally in its plans to digitalise the European economy and make it more sustainable.
By Ábel Bede
Ábel Bede was born in Budapest and has two degrees in History from Durham University. He specialised in Central Europan history and has been contributing to Kafkadesk since 2019. Feel free to check out more of his articles right here!