Both Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Head of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás have stated that the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine will be shipped to Hungary as soon as Hungarian authorities allow its use. Here is what you need to know about this vaccine.
The Hungarian government has reserved 19.7 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine through the EU, however it is only receiving 100,000 doses a week, Gergely Gulyás has stated, adding that that at this rate, it would take 30 weeks to inoculate 3 million people.
The slow rate of shipments has prompted the Hungarian government to agree with Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, to begin shipment of their vaccine as soon as it is licensed by the National Institute of pharmacy and Nutrition (OGYÉI).
Gulyás says that with enough vaccines, Hungary would be able to inoculate around half a million people a day.
Inactive Vaccines: Old but Gold?
About 20 million people worldwide have been vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine.
Currently, China’s two main vaccines are Beijing-based Sinovac’s CoronaVac and the state-owned Sinopharm vaccine. Both are inactivated vaccines, which function by using dead viral particles to expose the body’s immune system to the virus, without risking a serious disease response. This is an older approach to vaccine technology, which has been proved to work in the past.
Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines on the other hand are mRNA vaccines, which use part of the virus’ genetic code to create viral proteins which stimulates an adaptive immune response in which the body learns to defend itself. This is a newer approach with fewer examples of its past use.
While the CoronaVac has proved 91.25, 65.3, and 50.4 percent effective in various countries, Sinopharm announced after its phase three trials that its vaccine is 79 percent effective. The United Arab Emirates, however, which has also been testing and producing the Sinopharm vaccine, reports that it is 86 percent effective. The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines stand around 95 percent effectiveness after phase three trials, while the Russian Sputnik V vaccine has been reported to be 91.4 percent effective.
Currently, countries which have signed up for China’s vaccines are mostly located in Asia. Brazil and Chile have also approved it, and the UAE and Bahrain have approved the Sinopharm vaccine. China is also engaging in “vaccine diplomacy”, having set aside two billion dollars for Africa, and offering Latin America and Caribbean countries a loan of one billion dollars to buy its vaccines.
Chinese Vaccine Controversy
While the Sinopharm vaccine is proving almost as effective as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, it has received significant criticism for missing data, and skipping third phase testing in order to inoculate people as soon as possible. Before results were revealed about its phase three trials, Sinopharm had already inoculated almost a million people.
Zhang Wenhong, head of Fudan University’s infectious diseases department said that even among Chinese citizens there is worry about the state-developed vaccine. The expert said that to reassure the public, party leaders should be inoculated first. His statement spread quickly on Chinese social media before it was censored.
Taiwan News reported on a Shanghai-based expert and employee of the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Tao Lina, who discussed the vaccine on his Weibo page. Lina listed in length, apparently based off its instruction manual, all the 73 potential side effects of the vaccine. Lina’s Weibo account was deleted soon after due to a “violation of regulations”.
Readers should remember that China was classified as an authoritarian regime under the 2019 Democracy Index, and has been known for its frequent censorship of information.
Orbán: There is no risk
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in his interview with Kossuth Rádió, said that if the Hungarian authorities allow the Chinese vaccine to come into play, we could return to our normal lives before the summer. He says that this depends on how many Chinese and Russian vaccines Hungary receives. According to Orbán, there is no risk to the Sinopharm vaccine, and the way he sees it trust in vaccination is continuously growing in Hungary.
In the interview, the prime minister emphasized that so far, only one percent of the European Union has been vaccinated. He says instead of being frustrated about this, we should create “creative energy” and find alternative solutions.
Sinopharm Trust Issues
Independent business and financial news portal Napi.hu reports that Hungarians tend to trust Western vaccines more, with 53 percent saying they would only give themselves what the European Union has allowed. Only 11 percent are willing to immediately take the Chinese or Russian vaccine, with another 10 percent willing if the situation worsens. 17 percent said they would not take any of the coronavirus vaccines, and 9 percent said they are completely against any type of vaccination.
According to virologist Ferenc Jakab from the University of Pécs, it is not important whether a vaccine is Chinese, Russian, or American. What matters is that it is safe, effective, and reliable. Jakab, who was the head of PM Orbán’s coronavirus action group, says that if Hungary allows it, the Chinese and Russian vaccines can be just as effective as those of the West.
András Falus, a Széchenyi Prize-winning immunologist, said that there is no way to circumvent the pharmaceutical agency in putting the vaccine onto the Hungarian market. Falus says the OGYÉI, the institute responsible for authorization, can be trusted.
It appears that the decision comes down to speed over safety. Since Chinese authorities have not yet published documentation for the third testing phase of the Sinopharm vaccine, it is understandable why Hungarians are putting more faith in Pfizer and Moderna. The decision to bring in a less tested, controversial vaccine from an undemocratic country therefore, shows that the Hungarian government has intentions of getting through this pandemic sooner rather than later.
Featured photo illustration by MTI/AP/Xinhua news agency/Zhang Yuwei