Hungary became the European Union’s first member to approve China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine, sealing a deal on Friday for 5 million doses just a week after becoming the first EU member to buy Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the Sinopharm vaccines were enough to inoculate 2.5 million people, or about a quarter of its population, delivered in four batches over four months.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he would personally opt to receive the Chinese vaccine, as he trusted it more than others.
“I’m waiting for the Chinese vaccine, I trust in that the most,” Orban said. “Some people think about vaccines ideologically, and they need a western one and not an eastern one. I think the Chinese have known this virus for the longest, and they probably know it the best.”
Hungarian officials have criticised the EU for what they see as a slow vaccine roll-out, and in recent months have insisted that procuring vaccines developed in both western and eastern countries, such as Russia and China, would ensure that Hungarians get quick access to vaccinations.
The announcement came a day after Hungary’s government issued a decree calling for a green light for any vaccine that had been administered to at least 1 million people in at least three other countries.
Millions of doses made by Sinopharm and Sinovac shipped around the world to developing countries, particularly in Asia and Latin America.
Meanwhile, EU countries, relying so far almost entirely on a vaccine from Pfizer, have fallen far behind Britain, the United States and a number of developing countries in rolling out vaccines.
Hungary’s drug regulator gave emergency use approval to the Sinopharm vaccine, rather than wait for the bloc’s European Medicines Agency (EMA) to give the go-ahead, adding it to a list that also includes the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines as well as Russia’s Sputnik-V shot.
Premier Orban said the government monitored inoculations using the Chinese vaccine in neighbouring Serbia.
Asked whether it had completed its study before authorising the vaccine, the drug regulator OGYEI said it gave the green light because the shot fit the conditions in the government decree. It said it would continue to keep track of the vaccine.
It said that another state organisation, the National Public Health Centre, would put each vaccine shipment through tests, adding that 16 million people worldwide had already received the Sinopharm jab safely.
In Hungary, which has close to 10 million people, 364,909 people have been infected and 12,374 people have died of COVID-19 so far. The government has extended restrictions until March 1, including an 8 pm curfew and the closure of restaurants.