As Hungary tries to tackle a Covid death rate that ranks among the world’s 10 worst, efforts by the country’s medical authorities to increase vaccination rates may have been hampered by claims that the National drug regulatory authority reportedly rushed the approval process for Chinese and Russian injections. .
Vaccine skepticism in Hungary may have already hampered the country’s vaccination campaign, which has lagged behind progress in several other countries in the European Union, particularly in Western Europe.
But that was not always the case. Hungary paved the way for vaccinations in Europe early last year after purchasing the Sputnik vaccine from Russia and the Sinopharm vaccine from China. The country got both after Viktor Orban, Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister, criticized the slow start of the European Union’s vaccination campaign.
“It cannot be that Hungarians are dying because the vaccine supply in Brussels is slow,” Orban said in January 2021. “This is simply unacceptable,” he added.
Hungary announced on Friday that it had received a shipment of Russian-made Sputnik Light, a single-injection vaccine, for testing.
But Mr Orban has also struggled to develop public health policies to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and his decision to resort to vaccines not approved by European medicine regulators has drawn strong criticism in his country. Among those concerns was how quickly Hungarian authorities approved the use of Chinese and Russian vaccines, which raised fears of potential corruption and doubts about the safety of the shots.
In Hungary, the authorities do not publish data on the vaccines administered to people who have died of Covid. Hospitals and healthcare workers are also prohibited from speaking to the media without prior government permission. And citizens face criminal penalties for spreading false or distorted information that the government says is hampering its ability to cope with the public health crisis.
In February 2021, Dr Gyula Kincses, President of the Hungarian Medical Chamber, asked the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition, the drug regulatory body, to release the documentation for the approval of Sputnik vaccines to the public. and Sinopharm. He added that without the documentation, the chamber could not in good conscience recommend that doctors administer the injections.
Gergely Gulyas, Deputy Prime Minister Orban, said in April 2021 that Russia’s Sputnik vaccine was among the best, “even better than Western vaccines” and that “Sinopharm is better than Pfizer”.
In December, after months of litigation, the institute released drafted documents on the approval process.
Akos Hadhazy, an opposition MP, claimed to have bypassed the redactions. He said the redacted parts showed that Hungarian experts said they were unable to thoroughly inspect vaccine production sites and laboratory processes and lacked information on “several important tests regarding efficacy and Security”.
Mr Hadhazy has since filed a criminal complaint claiming that Hungarian medical authorities bowed to political pressure and violated professional standards during the Russian and Chinese vaccine approval process.
Dr Ferenc Falus, a former Hungarian chief medical officer, said in an interview that the case illustrated how the government “broke the backbone” of the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition, allowing political expediency to override appropriate medical processes.
The high death rate in Hungary, he said, can be attributed to the lack of political will to introduce strict public health measures, to the “catastrophic” health care situation that preceded the pandemic and to misleading government communication about vaccines.