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Feb 18, 2021 - Zoltán Kovács

Q&A: Hungary and the coronavirus

Here are some of the most frequently asked, coronavirus-related questions, and answers.

 

Q: Key coronavirus statistics: How is Hungary doing?

A: Since March 4, 2020, the date of the first reported case of COVID-19 in Hungary, at the time of writing: 394,023 people have been infected with coronavirus, 301,363 have recovered and 14,035 have passed away due to complications caused by the coronavirus.

Hungary had one of the most successful prevention strategies in Europe during the first wave of the pandemic. Now, with the second wave mostly behind us, we can once again safely say that, unlike in many other EU countries, Hungary’s healthcare system did not succumb to the extra burden brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

Q: Vaccination in Hungary: Where do we stand now?

A: The vaccination campaign in Hungary is adhering to a strict plan. Administration of the COVID-19 shot began on December 27, 2020, with the inoculation of doctors, hospital staff and healthcare workers. These are followed by social services staff, police and military officers and those above 60 years of age suffering from chronic illnesses.

Mass inoculation is on track despite the EU’s slow vaccine rollout: As of this morning (February 16, 2021), 365,021 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and 141,023 have already received the second dose of the vaccine. What’s more, Hungary’s vaccination rate is well above the EU average, as 3 percent of the Hungarian population has already been vaccinated versus the European Union’s average of 2.7 percent.

The Hungarian government has placed a high priority on procuring vaccines:In addition to EU shipments, we have negotiated with other sources including Israel, China and Russia. As Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has stressed on multiple occasions, in Hungary’s view, the coronavirus vaccine must not be turned into a political question, as “those who save time, will save lives, while those who waste time, will lose lives.”

Q: What vaccines are out there? Which ones are available in Hungary?

A: So far, five vaccines have been approved by Hungary’s National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI):

Comirnaty by Pfizer-BioNTech

mRNA-1273 by Moderna

Sputnik V by Gamaleya

AZD1222 by Oxford/AstraZeneca

BBIBP-CorV by Sinopharm

Currently, vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca, Moderna and Gamaleya are being administered in Hungary.

Q: How do these vaccines work? Are they safe?

A: The available vaccines use different mechanisms to immunize people against COVID-19:

The Chinese Sinopharm vaccine uses a form of the virus that has been inactivated or weakened so it does not cause disease but still generates an immune response.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots use genetically engineered RNA or DNA to generate a protein that itself safely prompts an immune response.

The Sputnik V and AstraZeneca vaccines use a form of the virus that has been genetically engineered so that it cannot cause disease but produces coronavirus proteins to safely generate an immune response. The media often refers to these as “viral vector vaccines.”

All five vaccines licensed for use in Hungary are reliable. Hungarian health authorities will only license a vaccine if it is effective and the risk of side effects or complications is negligible.

Q: Why is the EU so sluggish in procuring vaccines?

A: Countries like the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Israel – where vaccination is moving along swiftly – secured deals with vaccine producers as early as last July, while the EU did so only in November.

Similarly, as medical authorities in the U.S. and U.K. approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and licensed a second type of vaccine produced by Moderna last December, it took the European Medicines Agency until December 21 to authorize the Pfizer shot and as late as the beginning of January 2021 to allow for the administration of the Moderna vaccine.

Meanwhile, in a press statement two weeks ago, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confessed that the EC had indeed committed a string of errors when organizing the EU’s joint vaccine procurement scheme, including severely underestimating possible complications and delays in vaccine production.

Q: What can Hungary do to get vaccines faster?

A: Hungary’s vaccination capacity far exceeds the number of vaccines arriving from the European Union. At the EU’s current rate, since the number of weekly shipments of vaccines from the EU to Hungary remains well below 100,000, it would take until autumn 2021 to vaccinate enough of the population that all restrictions could be lifted. Hungary has therefore been looking for alternative sources of the vaccine and has already purchased two million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V and five million doses of China’s Sinopharm.

Q: How long will current restrictions remain in place?

A: The second wave of the pandemic in Hungary has been in a phase of stagnation, and if the current trend continues, the restrictions may be eased in two steps, on March 1 and one month later. However, only mass vaccination will get the pandemic under control.

At the same time, the Hungarian government launched a national consultation via an online public survey to assess citizens’ views on the subject of lifting the coronavirus restrictions.

Q: What is the next step in Hungary's vaccination plan?

A: The government plans to vaccinate everyone over 60 years of age, some 2 million Hungarians, by early April.