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In EU first, Chinese vaccines arrive in Hungary

By AFP - Feb 16,2021 - Last updated at Feb 16,2021

BUDAPEST — Hungary on Tuesday became the first EU country to receive China’s Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine as an initial batch of 550,000 doses arrived in Budapest, the government announced.

The vaccines — enough to protect 275,000 people against Covid-19 — were flown in aboard a Hungarian government plane which had left for Beijing on Monday and returned home at midday on Tuesday.

“This is an important day for Hungary,” Tamas Menczer, secretary of state for foreign affairs in Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s office, said at the airport. “We are trying to save lives and maintain the economy.”

Orban’s government announced late last month that it had ordered a total of 5 million Sinopharm doses.

Hungary’s pharmaceutical authority has approved the vaccine, but it cannot be administered until it receives the green light from the National Centre for Public Health, which has said it still needs to conduct tests.

In another first for the European Union, Hungary has already been administering the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine — named after the Soviet-era satellite — which has been found to be 91.6 percent effective against symptomatic Covid-19 cases.

Orban said last Friday that if Hungary can also start using the Sinopharm vaccine “in the near future, more than 2.5 million people can be inoculated by Easter”.

The prime minister has repeatedly criticised Brussels’ authorisation and procurement of vaccines as too slow — a criticism he reiterated on Friday.

“Each day we spend waiting around for Brussels, we would lose 100 Hungarian lives,” Orban said.

“Why should we think that European experts are smarter than us?” he asked, adding that he trusts Hungarian specialists more than those in Brussels.

The European Medicines Agency is under pressure to approve new coronavirus vaccines as quickly as possible, as the EU’s 27 member states grapple with delivery delays and shortages in supplies for the top three vaccines authorised in the EU — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford.

Meanwhile Hungary’s neighbour, non-EU member Serbia, is also using China’s and Russia’s vaccines and has raced ahead of the EU in the pace of its vaccination programme.


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