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Hungary Becomes First EU State To Use Russian Vaccine

A man receives a shot of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V at a Budapest hospital on February 12
A man receives a shot of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V at a Budapest hospital on February 12

Hungary on February 12 was on its way to become the first EU nation to use Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus, breaking ranks with the rest of the 27-member bloc.

"Today we are beginning to vaccinate with the Sputnik V vaccine, this is taking place in the designated vaccination stations," Cecilia Muller, Hungary's chief medical officer, told a daily press briefing in Budapest.

Hungary last month gave emergency approval to the Russian vaccine, ordering 2 million doses to be delivered over three months, enough to inoculate 1 million people, rather than wait for a green light from the EU's European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Budapest also approved the Chinese-made Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine -- again the first in the EU to do so -- and said it had ordered 5 million doses.

Hungary has often come into conflict with Brussels, mainly on migration, and repeatedly criticized what it says is the slow pace of vaccine approval and procurement by the EU's health agencies.

"Each day we spend waiting around for Brussels, we would lose 100 Hungarian lives," Prime Minister Viktor Orban said during his weekly interview with state radio on February 12.

On February 12, Hungary reported 99 new deaths from COVID-19, bringing the country's overall death toll to 13,543, while the number of infections and coronavirus patients in hospitals has begun rising sharply this month.

Orban blamed the surge in infections on the probable spread of the variant of the disease first detected in Britain.

However, he said there was no need for further lockdown measures to curb the spread, as a planned acceleration of inoculations with Russian and Chinese vaccines could offset the rise in cases in coming weeks.

"If we start inoculations with the Chinese vaccine as well, by Easter we will be able to vaccinate all the [more than 2 million] people who have registered for vaccines," Orban said.

Russia registered Sputnik V in August 2020, months ahead of Western drugmakers but before the start of large-scale clinical trials, which prompted skepticism from experts.

However, results published in The Lancet medical journal last week showed that Sputnik V is 91.6 percent effective against the virus.

Just over 300,000 Hungarians -- health-care workers and the most vulnerable among the elderly -- in a population of almost 10 million have so far received at least one shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Hungary also started using the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine this week.

Hungary's tourism industry has been seriously hit by the pandemic, with restaurants and bars being closed since November 2020 and a curfew enforced from 8 p.m.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters
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