Hungary rolls out China's Sinopharm jab amid lagging trust

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MTVA - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund

Csaba Lengyel, President of the University of Szeged's Szent-Gyorgyi Albert Clinic Center shows a vial of the vaccine against COVID-19 produced by Chinese Sinopharm at the university in Szeged, Hungary, Wednesday, February 24, 2021. (Tibor Rosta/MTI via AP)

BUDAPEST – Doctors in Hungary on Wednesday began administering a COVID-19 vaccine developed in China, making the country the first European Union nation to use a Chinese jab as officials aim to bolster trust in its safety and effectiveness.

General practitioners around the Central European country were instructed to administer the shots, developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, to elderly patients. The Sinopharm jab brings the number of vaccines currently in use in Hungary to five including the Russian-developed Sputnik V, more than in any other country in the 27-nation EU.

But for the country's expanded palette of vaccines to be put to full use, officials are seeking to increase lagging public trust in those produced in Eastern countries.

“I ask for all fears to be dispelled about the Chinese and Russian vaccines, because more than 30 million people have received these vaccines without any particular problems,” Hungary's chief medical officer, Cecilia Muller, said at a virtual media briefing Wednesday.

Hungary’s government has sharply criticized the speed of the EU’s vaccine procurement program, and sought to purchase doses from countries like China and Russia despite polling that shows trust in those vaccines is low among Hungarians.

A survey of 1,000 people in the capital of Budapest by pollster Median and the 21 Research Center showed that among those willing to be vaccinated, only 27% would take a Chinese vaccine and 43% a Russian vaccine, compared to 84% who would take a jab developed in Western countries. The poll, which was conducted at the end of January, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.

Still, Hungarian officials expect that the Sinopharm vaccine, which received final approval last week, will provide a sharp boost in the country’s vaccination rate: as many as 368,000 people could be inoculated this week alone, compared with 471,000 that have received a shot since vaccinations began in December, state secretary Dr. Istvan Gyorgy said Tuesday, adding that 275,000 people will receive the Sinopharm jab this week.

“Every vaccine available in Hungary is safe and able to provide protection against virus infection. This is true of the Eastern vaccines as well despite all rumors to the contrary,” Gyorgy said.