Saturday, February 27, 2021
Expensive calculation with risks?
Hungary imposes China vaccine on seniors
The vaccine deliveries negotiated by the EU are taking too long for Hungary’s Prime Minister Orban. Single-handedly, he orders vaccines from Russia and China that are not approved in the alliance. The latter is now being given emphatically to the elderly – although it has hardly been tested there.
After a long back and forth from ignored letters and missed calls, Gabor * got an appointment for his corona vaccination. He has not left his house in Budapest for months. When his son takes him to the family doctor early in the morning, it’s almost an event. Finally outside the door again and then with the hope of many more of them in the future – meeting the neighbors again, hugging the grandchildren again. In practice his doctor announces: “We can offer you the Sinopharm vaccine.” Gabor is considering refusing. Relatives have warned him that the effectiveness of the Chinese vaccine is controversial and that it has hardly been tested on people over 60. Gabor is over 90 years old.
But then, says the old man, his doctor threatens: “If you refuse this vaccination, it will be noted in your medical file.” Should he later become infected with the corona virus, he will no longer treat him. He will probably not get another vaccination offer for the foreseeable future, if at all. It is unclear whether the doctor is following official orders. In social media, however, similar reports are piling up, especially the uncertainty of a later vaccination offer probably drives some to the syringe.
One thing is clear: Hungary became the first EU country on Wednesday to vaccinate with the Chinese BBIBP-CorV in a large-scale offensive. The right-wing national Fidesz government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban single-handedly ordered five million doses from Sinopharm; with two vaccinations that would be enough for around a quarter of Hungary’s ten million inhabitants. The first delivery of 550,000 cans has already arrived, the rest is to follow in two more tranches “over the next few months,” according to the government.
No results from Phase III tests
So far, Hungary has vaccinated almost six percent of its population, primarily the vaccines from Biontech, Astrazeneca and Moderna ordered by the EU. The country is ultimately entitled to doses for 9.8 million people under the EU treaties. Orban repeatedly denounces their delivery as too slow. The Russian vaccine Sputnik V has been used since mid-February, from which Hungary has also ordered two million doses on its own. Now BBIBP-CorV is added.
In Hungary it is currently the turn of the group of priority 3, this includes primarily those over 60 years of age, in descending order. The data situation on the Chinese vaccines is not transparent, so far Beijing itself has only granted Sinopharm an emergency approval. Sinopharm only mentioned the results of phase III clinical tests in a press release; the cited data are not accessible. In addition, the country is pursuing a different strategy when it comes to immunizing its population, where it is the younger generation’s turn first, so the Sinopharm vaccine has rarely been tested on people over 60. The product is still not approved in the EU.
Hungary also granted Sinopharm an emergency permit after its own approval regulations were adjusted. An additional test by the national drug and food authority was no longer necessary if a substance had already been used in at least one million people in at least three countries. Of these, one must be an EU member or at least a candidate for membership. A handful of global vaccination campaigns with Sinopharm, for example in Brazil, together with EU candidates Turkey and Serbia, meet these newly defined requirements.
At least twice as expensive as Biontech vaccine
The Hungarian Foreign Minister then assesses whether the criteria are met. Peter Szijjarto then personally arranged the delivery of the Sinopharm vaccine with the Chinese Minister of Commerce. Official cost: over 10,000 forints per dose, around 28 euros, almost double the Biontech price negotiated by the EU. According to reports, it could be significantly more.
However, the price is secondary to the economic damage already caused by the pandemic, said Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s minister of office. European politicians, such as the German Reinhard Bütikofer, suspect other reasons: “You get the impression that what Orban is doing here, as is so often the case, is more influenced by a geopolitical stance” and not based on health considerations, said the Green MEP of Deutsche Welle.
Even before the arrival of the Sinopharm doses, the Hungarian citizens themselves were not given a choice of vaccines. Whoever wants to be vaccinated has to register, whoever is registered receives a message from the family doctor. The doctor decides which patient receives which vaccine according to the prescribed contingents. Hungarians cannot choose the family doctor themselves either, the practice in the district where they live is responsible. The government repeatedly emphasizes that vaccinations are “based on availability”.
The Chinese vaccine in particular will now be available. Its delivery apparently also makes already pronounced vaccine offers obsolete. For example, an 82-year-old reported that she had been registered for a Biontech vaccination, when the time came, the doctor only gave her the choice between Sinopharm or a rejection with unforeseeable consequences. At Gabor, too, the threatening backdrop that was built up did not fail to have an effect. He was vaccinated with the BBIBP-CorV, which was untested in his age group.
* Name changed by the editor