Leaders of the Visegrad Group of nations pushed for faster deliveries of vaccines to their Central European countries to help fight the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in the region.
The leaders of Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland on February 17 said they support buying vaccines from producers regardless of “geopolitics,” as long as they are safe and effective.
Leaders of the four Central European nations -- Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic -- gathered at the Wawel Castle in the Polish city of Krakow to mark 30 years of their Visegrad Group (V4), an informal body of political and economic cooperation in the region.
Hungary is the first and only European Union country so far to administer Russia's Sputnik V vaccine before it receives approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
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Questions were earlier raised about the safety and efficacy of the Russian vaccine, but peer-reviewed, late-stage trial results published in The Lancet medical journal this month showed the two-dose regimen of Sputnik V was 91.6 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19, about the same level as the leading Western-developed vaccines.
“There is no Eastern or Western vaccine, there is only a good or a bad vaccine,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a news conference. “It is not good to be too political about the health security of the people.”
Orban in the past has criticized the EU for its slow rollout of vaccines in the bloc. Orban has been repeatedly criticized by EU leaders in Brussels for his authoritarian governance in his country.
The Hungarian leader has defended his government’s decision to unilaterally seek vaccines, without EU approval, from Russia and China. Hungarian health authorities last month approved vaccines from China's state-owned company Sinopharm, as well as Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Slovak Prime Minister Igor Matowic and Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland backed Orban’s comments.
European Council President Charles Michel, who attended the event, said bloc leaders will next week discuss ways of increasing vaccine production and of speeding the inoculation process.
Michel praised the group's development and role in the EU but stressed the group must be “based on principles of democracy,” in comments that appeared to be directed at Hungary and Poland.
All four countries are EU and NATO members. Hungary and Poland have often been criticized by Brussels for what is seen as political interference in areas like the judiciary and media freedom.
In a letter for Poland's Interia.pl news platform and for the Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet, Orban said the role of Central European nations is to help protect the EU against “outside attacks” but also against “internal tendencies to build an empire” while guarding their own independence.
The V4 nations “understand their share of responsibility for the future of Europe" based on Christian values, Orban wrote.
The V4 was founded in February 1991 from a declaration of cooperation that then-Presidents Lech Walesa of Poland, Vaclav Havel of then-Czechoslovakia, and Jozsef Antall of Hungary signed in Visegrad, Hungary.
Poland holds the group’s 12-month rotating presidency, which it will hand over to Hungary on July 1.