The Chinese Sinopharm and Russian Sputnik V vaccines are increasingly receiving both positive and negative attention from the European Union. While the European Commission is supposedly planning to recognize vaccines with emergency authorization in the EU’s vaccine passport, an official from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has warned against doing so, citing a lack of documentation. The two vaccines could play a stronger role in Europe, as they have helped Hungary reach a vaccination rate high above the EU average.
The European Commission is already working on a European digital vaccine passport which, unlike Hungarian vaccination certificates, contains the type of vaccine used for inoculation.
This could be a significant issue for Hungarians, since EU leaders agreed on January 27 that certificates would contain such details, a decision which the Hungarian government chose not to follow.
While Hungary’s decision to omit such details could be related to its use of vaccines not authorized by the EU, but the European Commission is supposedly planning to recognize both authorized and unauthorized vaccines.
Sinopharm and Sputnik V to be Recognized in Vaccine Passport?
A Bloomberg journalist discovered further details of the European Commission’s suggestion through an anonymous individual familiar with the EC’s draft regulation on vaccine passports, who said that the European Union is planning to accept Chinese and Russian vaccines on vaccinations passports.
Based on the recommendations of southern member states, the certificates will be required to include the holder’s vaccination status, the results of their coronavirus test, and details on whether they have recovered from the coronavirus or not.
According to Bloomberg, the vaccination documents will accept vaccines authorized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), as well as those which have been nationally approved for emergency use, such as Sinopharm’s vaccine and Sputnik V.
The suggestion will be officially proposed to Brussels next week, Bloomberg says. It is in no way confirmed yet that Sputnik V and Sinopharm’s vaccine will be recognized in the Union, however this proposal means that the commission, the EU body which has previously been critical of unauthorized vaccines, is considering cooperation.
EMA Official Warns against Sputnik Licensing
Christa Wirthumer-Hoche, one of the leaders of EMA, has called on EU member states not to allow the Russian Sputnik V vaccine to be recognized as valid until the medicinal agency has completed the necessary tests around it.
She told Austrian public television network ORF that “we still require the documents which we can analyze. Currently we do not even have information of vaccinated people. This is not known. For this reason, I strongly advise against authorization on a national level.”
Wirthumer-Hoche also told ORF that EMA will also officially begin considering the use of the American Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the union. She added that they expect a positive evaluation, and that the European Commission will soon be able to license the single jab vaccine.
Sputnik Producers Challenge EMA Statement
Following the EMA official’s statement, the developers of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine challenged EMA’s neutrality. In a Twitter post, they demanded a public apology from Wirthumer-Hoche “for her negative comments on EU states directly approving Sputnik V. Her comments raise serious questions about possible political interference in the ongoing EMA review.”
The vaccine producer said EMA undermined its credibility with the statement, saying that no such comments were made during the analysis of other vaccines.
Heavy Debate Around EU Vaccine Rollout
Vaccines are a sensitive topic in the EU right now. The union is struggling with vaccinations, and there has been plenty of frustration over the slow arrival of doses which have been ordered.
Leaders have been pointing fingers as to who’s to blame for the slow rollout, many accusing the European Commission.
A recent Politico article, however, suggested that the fault could be in the hands of EU member states, as many countries have significantly more vaccines available than the amount they have used for inoculation.
The article states that in countries such as Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, and Slovenia, less than one in four delivered AstraZeneca vaccine doses have been administered.
The article also states that while Hungary has sought out Chinese and Russian vaccines to increase its vaccination rate, the country’s administration of available vaccines is last in the EU. Only 56 percent of Hungary’s available vaccines have been used, according to EU statistics.
Hungarian Official Defends Gov’t Vaccination Program
Zoltán Kovács, secretary of state for public diplomacy and relations of the ministry of administration and justice, posted to his Facebook page on Wednesday claiming that the Politico article is fake news.
Kovács backed up his statement by saying that Hungary’s vaccination program is the second most successful in Europe, with 11 percent of its population being vaccinated, compared to the EU average of 6 percent.
The secretary of state also believes Hungary’s vaccination rate is bothering the politicians in Brussels, since it shows that its decision to authorize the vaccines of China and Russia was, according to him, the correct one.
Hungary Has a Long Way to Go Still
Regarding the amount of vaccines in use, Kovács said Hungary has already vaccinated more than one million people, and that of the 2.1 million available vaccines 1.4 million have been used for inoculations. He added that 530 thousand doses are set to be used this week.
Hungary’s vaccination rate is impressive on a global level as well, as it ranks 14th in the world, relative to its population. Still, vaccinating 10.8 per 100 people, Hungary is significantly behind top countries, including Israel (93.2 people per 100), the United Arab Emirates (63.1 people per 100), the United Kingdom (32.3 people per 100), and the United States (24.3 people per 100).
This does not mean that Hungary is performing poorly, or that its vaccines are ineffective, but its current vaccination rate is not enough to curb the spread of the pandemic.
To achieve such a goal, 60 percent of the country would need to be inoculated, however this number could grow if mutations become more prevalent. From an optimistic perspective, we are more than one sixth of the way to curbing the pandemic’s spread in Hungary.
Featured photo illustration by Attila Balázs/MTI