Hungary cools on Russian COVID jab, scolds EU on vaccines

File photo. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban leaves a face-to-face EU summit, in Brussels, Belgium, 11 December 2020. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

Hungary is unlikely to use Russia’s coronavirus vaccine due to its limited production capacity, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said Sunday (3 January) while criticising the EU’s vaccine acquisition approach.

Often at loggerheads with Brussels over democratic standards, Orbán has sent experts to monitor vaccine development in Russia and China, and received samples of Moscow’s controversial Sputnik V jab.

Hungary receives 6,000 doses of Russia's coronavirus vaccine

Hungary said it received 6,000 doses of Russia’s controversial coronavirus vaccine on Monday (28 December), in a new display of Budapest’s maverick vaccine policy.

“We know that the Russian vaccine is good, but there is not enough of it and probably will not be, as there are production capacity limits,” Orbán said in an interview on Hungarian public radio.

In comparison with Sputnik V “the Chinese (vaccine) is more promising, it seems that it will be available sooner and in greater quantities,” said Orbán.

“Ideally, you will be able to choose whether you want to vaccinate yourself with either a vaccine from the west or a Chinese vaccine,” he said.

In November Budapest boasted that Hungary was the first European country to receive test samples of the Russian vaccine.

EU warns Hungary against use of Russia's COVID-19 vaccine

Hungary’s plans to import and possibly use Russia’s touted Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine raise safety concerns and could damage trust in potential shots, the European Commission said, opening a new front in the EU’s fraught relations with Budapest.

Western and Russian experts have raised concerns over the fast-tracked drug, which has not yet been approved for marketing inside the bloc by the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Critics have also described Sputnik V as a tool to bolster Russia’s geopolitical influence.

Orbán said Sunday however that he is “not happy with the pace” of vaccine acquisition from the EU.

“There were manufacturers whose products were available sooner in Canada, the UK, and in Israel than for example in the EU,” he said.

“But that is Brussels’ job, they are dealing with it,” he added.

“We are looking after the eastern relations contact network, as Brussels is not doing that.., that is why it is better to stand on two legs,” he said.

Orbán’s latest jibe toward Brussels comes after Hungary sidestepped the EU’s coordinated approach to vaccinations last week.

After receiving its first delivery of the Belgian-made Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus jab on 26 December, it immediately started administering the vaccine, sidestepping the EU’s joint start that began a day later.

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