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.
“Why would we think that the Europeans are smarter than we are?” Orban said Friday. “This isn’t true. Our professionals are at least as good as any European professional, and I don’t trust a (vaccine) analysis in Brussels more than I do in a Hungarian one. In fact, just the opposite.”
Orban said the increasing proportion of Hungarians receiving COVID-19 shots should be enough to prevent the need for new pandemic restrictions in Hungary, despite recent increases in the number of confirmed cases and deaths.
Since Nov. 11, the country's infection-control measures have included an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. a requirement for shops to close at 7 p.m., and limiting restaurants to take-out and delivery service have been in place. The restrictions are expected to remain in force until at least March 1.
As of Friday, 13,543 people had died in Hungary of coronavirus-related causes and 310,448 had received at least a first dose of a vaccine, around 4.2 per 100 people in the population.