Chinese vaccine will pull Hungary ahead of EU, PM says

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MTVA - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund

A man receives a shot of Russian vaccine Sputnik V at Central Hospital of the Hungarian Defence Forces (military) in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, as the vaccination with Sputnik V against the new coronavirus begins in the country. (Zsolt Szigetvary/MTI via AP)

BUDAPEST – Hungary will be able to vaccinate millions more people against the coronavirus by the end of May than other European countries with similarly sized populations due to its plans to use a vaccine made in China, the Hungarian prime minister predicted in a radio interview Friday.

“If we start using the Chinese vaccine, which will happen soon, then by Easter we can vaccinate every person who has registered so far,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, referring to the nearly 2.5 million people who have signed up to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the country of nearly 10 million.

“As things stand now, that will be 6.8 million people by the end of May or beginning of June,” Orban continued. “If we compare Hungary's vaccination plan with the European situation, then Hungary can vaccinate 3.5 million more people by the end of May than a European country of the same size and population. I think this is huge."

Orban's government has criticized the pace of the European Union's vaccine rollout and in recent months sought vaccines from countries outside the bloc's common procurement program. A government decree streamlined Hungary's vaccine approval process by allowing any vaccine administered to at least 1 million people worldwide to be used without undergoing review by the country’s medicines regulator.

Hungarian health authorities last month approved the jab developed by China's state-owned company Sinopharm and also authorized use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

A Hungarian government official on Thursday said the first shipment of a half-million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine would arrive next week for assessment by Hungary’s National Public Health Center. Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Muller said at a press conference Friday that vaccinations with Sputnik V had started at four hospitals in the capital of Budapest

Hungary has purchased enough Sputnik V doses to treat 1 million people and enough Sinopharm doses to treat 2.5 million. It was unclear whether Orban's May projection was simply the number of vaccines the country has purchased outside the EU's procurement program.

The prime minister has rejected arguments that only vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s medicines regulator, should be approved for use in Hungary.