Orban chooses to receive Chinese jab to boost trust in non-EU vaccines

Orban chooses to receive Chinese jab to boost trust in non-EU vaccines
Hungary is the only EU country to have approved the use of the Sinopharm vaccine favoured by PM Viktor Orban.
By bne IntelliNews March 1, 2021

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban received the Chinese Sinopharm jab, one of the non-EMA approved vaccines on February 28. Hungary is the only EU country to have approved the use of the vaccine and has ordered a total of 5mn doses. Earlier, the PM stated that he would personally choose the Chinese vaccine, but also highlighted the reliability of the Russian one.

"My standpoint is that the Chinese have known this virus the longest, so I believe that they probably also know the most about it. Anyway, I’m waiting for my turn, and if at that point I have a choice of vaccines, I’ll ask for the Chinese one",  he told state media a month ago.

The government claims that buying from China and Russia is essential to speed up inoculation and reach herd immunity faster as it constantly pins the blame on the EU for being slow on the delivery of vaccines.

Hungary has secured a total of 19.7mn doses from western manufacturers, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Janssen and Curevac, 5mn from China and 2mn from Russia.

Vaccination has been heavily overpoliticised. The cabinet blames the opposition for speaking out against vaccines coming from the East as public trust in Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V is extremely low.

Opposition parties say Orban pressured health authorities to give the green light for these drugs in Hungary. Experts claim that  Sinopharm has not provided the complete, detailed results of its clinical trials.

After calls by the opposition, the government was forced to admit they had ordered fewer doses from Moderna from the EU pool than available because it costs more than Pfizer. Comments like that are not helping the acceptance of Eastern vaccines. 

Statements like that are also at odds with claims that there is no financial burdens to protecting lives. During the first wave Hungary bought 16,000 ventilators, although health experts warned that there are only 2,200 skilled personnel to operate them at a single time.

In his regular Friday morning interview with state media, the prime minister did not rule out imposing further restrictions.

This came after stark warnings by officials and Orban himself that the next two weeks would be critical and the situation could worsen dramatically.

Last week Hungary saw weekly infections surge to 25,000 from 15,000 in the previous week and from 10,000 between February 8-14. The weekly growth per 100,000 inhabitants was the fastest in the world.

Hungary changing vaccination protocol 

Hungary’s chief medical officer announced over the weekend that the country has changed its vaccination protocol to delay the second jab to favour boosting the vaccination rate. On Saturday a record 104,000 people received a jab, a two-fold increase from the previous days' average. 

Over the weekend, the government also amended the decree on the vaccination certificate, which must not indicate the type of jab received. This means that authorities can’t check whether it was a vaccine approved by European Medicenes Agency or by the Chinese or a Russian one.

The government did not comment on rules introduced by Poland. Health authorities said that travellers without a negative test would have to stay in self-isolation for 14 days. The same would apply to people with non-EMA approved vaccines.

Hungary's president also received the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine on Friday. Janos Ader urged people to get vaccinated and trust doctors and the Hungary's healthcare system.