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EU Says Hungary Opts Out Of New Vaccine Deal With Pfizer

A nurse administers the Russian vaccine Sputnik V to a patient in a hospital in Nagykanizsa, Hungary.
A nurse administers the Russian vaccine Sputnik V to a patient in a hospital in Nagykanizsa, Hungary.

Hungary has become the only European Union member state to opt out of a new agreement the bloc has signed with Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of up to 1.8 billion doses of their COVID-19 vaccine.

The European Commission -- the EU's executive body -- on May 20 confirmed the new deal, the third it has signed with the two companies, for the possible purchase of the doses until 2023.

The bloc has already ordered 600 million doses through the two previous contracts.

"Hungary opted out of the Pfizer deal," the EU spokesman said.

Gergely Gulyas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, confirmed that Hungary had decided not to be part of the joint purchase, voicing confidence in the country's current supply of vaccines.

Even if a booster was needed, "there are plenty of vaccines from Eastern and Western sources as well," he told a news conference on May 20.

Hungary has bucked the EU at several turns during the pandemic, including authorizing and deploying Russian and Chinese shots before their approval by the EU drugs regulator -- the only European Union country to do so.

In March, the government suggested Russian and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines were more effective than Western ones, prompting protests by Hungarian scientists and medical professionals.

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Orban has close ties with Russia and China while he's been embroiled in several major clashes with the EU.

Hungary has given at least one dose of a vaccine to 49 percent of its adult population, one of the fastest rollouts in the world. However, doubts have been raised about the transparency of the vaccine acquisition contracts as well as the high prices paid for Chinese doses.

In March, The New York Times reported that Hungary agreed to buy 5 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, priced at 30 euros ($36) each, according to contracts that Gulyas uploaded to his Facebook page.

The contract was between the Hungarian government and a third-party vendor, and that price far surpassed what the EU agreed to pay for the Pfizer vaccine in the previous deals -- some $15.5 per dose.

Anti-corruption watchdogs have warned that the involvement of third parties increases the risk of price gouging.

With reporting by Reuters
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