Hungary is the only European Union country that has decided to opt out of a new vaccine deal the bloc has signed with Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of up to 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 jab, an EU spokesman said.
The Commission on Thursday confirmed the new deal, the third it has signed with the two companies, for the possible purchase of up to 1.8 billion doses until 2023, following 600 million doses ordered via the two previous contracts.
“Hungary opted out of the Pfizer deal,” the EU spokesman said on Thursday.
Gergely Gulyás, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff, confirmed that Hungary had decided not to be part of the joint purchase, expressing confidence in the country’s current supply of vaccines.
Gulyás added that Hungary would also refrain from buying other vaccines through the EU procurement scheme.
“Hungary would not like to take part in the next chapter of Brussels’s vaccine purchase program,” he told a news conference on Thursday.
Even if a booster was needed, “there are plenty of vaccines from Eastern and Western sources as well,” he said.
Orbán has cultivated strong ties with Russia and China, and Hungary has authorised and deployed Russian and Chinese shots before their approval by the EU drugs regulator — the only European Union country to do so.
In March, the government suggested Russian and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines were more effective than Western ones, prompting an outcry from Hungarian scientists and doctors.
The government’s approach seems to be paying off, however: Hungary has given at least one dose of a vaccine to 49% of the adult population, the fourth-fastest rollout in the world, according to a Reuters tally.
Under the joint procurement scheme, the EU has signed deals with six Western vaccine makers to secure up to 2.6 billion doses. The new contract with Pfizer is the first of a second wave of deals meant to ensure the EU has enough doses in the future for boosters and against variants.
Hungary’s use of Chinese and Russian Covid jabs in its vaccination rollout have saved the country more than 500 billion forints (EUR 1.43bn) as pandemic restrictions could be eased earlier, state secretary Tamás Menczer said at a conference in Zalaegerszeg, in western Hungary, on Thursday.
Menczer noted that four million people in Hungary had been inoculated against the coronavirus by April 30, adding that without Chinese and Russian vaccines, that number would not have been reached until “the second half of July”, meaning restrictions could have been in place for “another month and a half or two”.
Menczer said every day the country was locked down generated a loss of 10-15 billion forints.
He added that 48 percent of Hungarians have had at least their first jab of a Covid vaccine, so far, well over the 32 percent rate for the European Union as a whole.
In addition to vaccines Hungary ordered in a joint procurement with the European Union, it also bought Sinopharm jabs from China and doses of Sputnik V from Russia. By late April, just before Hungary reached the 4 million inoculated threshold, deliveries of the Sinopharm and Sputnik vaccines accounted for around half of total Covid vaccine shipments to the country.
Source: Reuters, MTI