No trace: Hungary deletes vaccine origin from jab certificate

Hungarian vaccination certificate will not include type of vaccine received, new government decree revealed. [Shutterstock/Dima Sobko/Reddavebatcave/rawf8]

The national Hungarian vaccination certificate will not state which type of jab was administered, according to an amendment to a government decree published on Saturday (27 February).

Under the amendment, part of the text that provided for health data transfers to the relevant authorities was rewritten to exclude information on the type of vaccine used.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Hungary, which is the only EU country inoculating citizens with the Russian Sputnik and Chinese Sinopharm jabs, both of which are not authorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Poland, for example, recently decided that only people with a negative PCR test result no older than 48 hours or a certificate proving they received an EU-approved jab can enter the country without quarantine.

The only three vaccines currently approved in the EU are produced by Pfizer–BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

Chinese coronavirus jab brings relief, and concern in Hungary

We should be happy to get any vaccine,” said Laszlo Cservak, a pensioner queueing in Budapest for China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine shot after Hungary became the first EU member to start using it.

On Sunday, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán announced on his social media pages that he had been vaccinated with the Chinese jab.

Currently, it is unclear whether or when there will be an EU-wide certificate – leaving questions about how Hungarian citizens will be able to prove the type of vaccination they have received.

After a video summit of EU leaders on Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the positions of countries had moved closer on the travel certificates but that differences remained.

The EU executive chief recalled that at the end of January EU countries “agreed what kind of data are needed for such a vaccination certificate for medical purposes,” including “which kind of vaccines have been used.”

“Now the member states need to implement that in their healthcare systems and their border systems,” Von der Leyen added, highlighting that the Commission will need at least three months to ensure the data exchanges are interoperable at a European level. 

“In order to ensure a sufficient uptake of vaccination, it is important to build citizens’ trust in the vaccines,” an EU spokesperson told EURACTIV earlier, adding that “transparency is an important element of this process.”

Less of cheaper Moderna, more of expensive Chinese jab

Meanwhile, Hungary committed to purchasing only half of the EU-authorised Moderna vaccines that could have been allocated in proportion to its population. According to calculation by Telex, the country only committed to buying 1.74 million out of the 3.5 million doses that could have been available to it under the EU’s joint procurement scheme.

“The mechanism of action of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is very similar, but Pfizer has been able to provide more favourable customer conditions and prices,” a government spokesperson told RTL explaining why the government has not purchased more vaccines.

However, the Moderna jab is only half the price of the Sinopharm jab, according to The Lancet medical, costing  $31 compared to Chinese vaccine’s  $62 per course of treatment.

Budapest’s preoccupation with affordability also contradicts previous statements from Orbán, who on numerous occasions emphasised that jab costs should not stand in the way of vaccinations.

At the beginning of February he told radio listeners during his weekly interview that “what was important for Brussels bureaucrats is to get vaccines as cheaply as possible”,  though Hungary would have preferred to have more vaccines faster at a higher cost rather than fewer and cheaper vaccines coming slowly.

Orbán has repeatedly criticised the slow pace EU-coordinated rollout of vaccines.

Hungary could start using Russian jab next week, Orbán says

Hungary may become the first EU country to start vaccinating its citizens with the Russian vaccine, as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in his weekly radio interview on Friday (5 February) it could do so as early as next week, adding that a Chinese vaccine was also due soon.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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