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Pfizer Becomes Accessible to Everyone, Chaos Overwhelms Hungary’s Vaccination Program Once Again

Tamás Vaski 2021.04.30.

Friday’s vaccinations turned chaotic following Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s statement that Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines would finally be accessible to everyone on Friday, and Friday alone, since afterwards it would not be available for weeks. The vaccine registry database was overwhelmed and crashed early in the morning, likely due to thousands of people wanting to be vaccinated with the 100 thousand doses of the vaccine. Hungarians around the country, both registered and non-registered, ended up waiting in lines hundreds of meters long.

Hungary’s vaccination program has progressed quite well, with the country being second best in the EU in proportion to its population inoculated with at least one jab. However, hundreds of thousands of people have been eagerly awaiting their first shot. Some of them only wanted the more popular Western vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, but these, with a few exceptions, were only accessible to the elderly, healthcare workers, Olympians, and the players of the national football team.

As the government announced more and more steps of the country’s gradual reopening, it gave people a sense of urgency, either for them wanting to take part in the activities that would be made accessible only with an immunity certificate, or wanting more personal protection as the community rules lifted.
Hungary's Hasty Reopening Could Trigger Fourth Covid Wave, Experts Warn
Hungary's Hasty Reopening Could Trigger Fourth Covid Wave, Experts Warn

They point out that most of the four million people vaccinated have only received their first jab, which does not provide enough protection against the coronavirus.Continue reading

But on Friday morning, news started floating around that the government would make Pfizer-BioNTech available to everyone in the mass vaccination campaign which, up until Friday, had only included two less popular vaccines, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca. This gained even more momentum when pro-government site Origo wrote that the “gates to Pfizer” will be finally opened at 10 a.m. The motivation behind this move was surely the Orbán government wanting to reach the milestone of 4,000,000 inoculated in the country by Friday, something which did not look possible based on the past day’s vaccination numbers. Almost 87,000 jabs were needed on Friday, while on Thursday, only around 40,000 first jabs were administered. It was clear that Sinopharm and AstraZeneca do not provide enough motivation to reach such a high number in a day, while hotels had already started booking for the weekend, and the most popular football team, Ferencváros, (led by Fidesz party director Gábor Kubatov), had been selling tickets for Saturday’s match to celebrate winning the championship.

Orbán Announces Day of Pfizer Vaccinations

In his Friday morning interview with Kossuth Rádió, Viktor Orbán announced that those registered for vaccination will be able to be vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for one more day, after which people will need to wait weeks to acquire it, since it will be set aside for 16–18-year-olds.

The Hungarian government is expecting the number of vaccinated people to reach four million by Friday or Saturday, the point at which the curfew will be modified to start at midnight, and restaurants, pubs, and bars can remain open until 11pm.

Gov't Announces Rules to Apply After 4 Million Inoculated
Gov't Announces Rules to Apply After 4 Million Inoculated

Venues offering leisure activities that were shut in November will reopen to vaccination certificate holders, including zoos, wildlife parks, museums, theatres, cinemas and libraries.Continue reading

Whoever has an immunity certificate will be able to dine indoors, to attend theatres, movie theatres, zoos, swimming pools, gyms, and soccer matches, bringing their children along if they are underaged. The prime minister considers it a success that Hungary has achieved so many single-dose vaccinations already.

Registry Site for Vaccination Collapses

The government set aside 100 thousand Pfizer doses for Friday’s vaccinations, but the National eHealth Infrastructure (EESZT) electronic database used to register Hungarians for vaccination crashed and was inoperable.

People “lay siege” on vaccination centers

Independent weekly Magyar Hang reported on the György Gottsegen Cardiology Institute, where soldiers lined the entrance to ensure that people would enter for vaccinations in an orderly manner. Whoever had an appointment was let in ahead of the others, the rest made up the long line that extended down the street.

Photo by Mariann Katona/Magyar Hang

According to Magyar Hang, the majority of those people had not registered, but hoped to be vaccinated. Neither employees of the clinic nor the military personnel politely addressing the line of people knew the protocol on whether they could vaccinate non-registered individuals.

Hungary’s Vaccination Program Falls Into Disarray

Multiple hospitals around Hungary in possession of Pfizer vaccines had huge lines of people in front of them, spanning hundreds of meters from the entrance.

Liberal 444 reported at 11 that the Honvéd Hungária vaccination center had the vaccine, and in less than two hours a huge line made up of hundreds of people formed in front of the vaccination center, spanning multiple streets.

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Crowded Vaccination Centers Contribute to Covid Cases in Hungary?

Hungary’s vaccination centers have been facing backlash ever since photos surfaced of how crowded certain clinics can get at times. Independent member of parliament Ákos Hadházy, known for frequently challenging the government, has asked officials to share relevant information on how many people were infected with Covid after being vaccinated, but he has not received […]Continue reading

One lady was heard swearing in front of the center’s rear entrance after waiting three hours for a Pfizer vaccination only to find out that its supply had run out, and that she would need to wait in a separate, equally long line for AstraZeneca or Sinopharm.

Liberal Hvg.hu said that a line of people numbering around 200, in front of Saint Imre Hospital, were given numbers based on the amount of available vaccines before the line was closed completely.

An informant from Szeged mentioned a police officer stating that 500 people were in line at a vaccination center with 2,000 doses, simply needing to register online while they waited, if they could.

One individual journalist reported from the National Korányi Pulmonology Institute that there were 500 Pfizer doses available and appointments were not required. He needed to wait 40 minutes outside, but once inside he stood in line for more than an hour.

Photo by Magyar Hang

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony posted about the event on his Facebook page, saying that it was expected, based onthe government’s recent actions.

If, instead of flaunting political slogans, the government paid just a little more attention to the people, then today’s instances of mass crowding and the collapse of the registration system could have been avoided.”

Magyar Hang said that many of the people in these line-ups were simply trying their luck for vaccination, discussing on the phone which areas were worth trying out. The long line ups could be found at multiple other Hungarian hospitals not listed here, raising the question of why the registry system was overwhelmed, and why so many of the people present were not registered for vaccination.

Gov’t Task Force Blames ‘Cyber Attack’ for Online Registration Site’s Collapse 

In reaction to the system crashing, police chief Róbert Kiss, one of the leaders of the government’s coronavirus operative board, announced that a cyber-attack had targeted the website, but that they had fixed the issue.

While the database remained open for Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccinations, the opportunity to register for a Pfizer vaccination was unavailable throughout the entire day. It is also much more likely, based on the huge lines that formed, that the system was simply overwhelmed by all the sudden registrations occurring.

Hopefully the Last Error In Hungary’s Vaccination Program

This is not the first time Hungary’s vaccination program fell into disarray. A similar state of chaos occurred at the beginning of March, when logistical mismanagement and poor communication led to the vaccination of people who had not registered, while those who had registered were excluded.

Chaos and Confusion Overwhelm Hungary's Weekend Vaccination Program
Chaos and Confusion Overwhelm Hungary's Weekend Vaccination Program

Hungary’s vaccination program went into a state of chaos over the weekend due to miscommunication and a lack of organization. The government cancelled AstraZeneca vaccinations for those with chronic illnesses due to what it referred to as “synchronization problems.” Despite this, many people still showed up to their clinics and were inoculated. Some of them […]Continue reading

Following the incident, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás said that “there can be smaller disturbances in a logistical endeavor of this kind,” but no significant statements to resolve such issues in the future were made.

Later, when the government finally set up its platform where people could check the status of their registration for vaccination, and it collapsed immediately, the task force blamed a “coordinated cyberattack” for the failure. (The online registrations did not provide any feedback on whether the registration was successful or not, and people were left in the dark, months had gone by and they could not secure an appointment.) However, a more likely explanation is that hundreds of thousands of people were trying to register as soon as it became possible.

This will hopefully be the last instance of such a chaotic situation befalling Hungary. It would be ideal, especially during a global pandemic, to avoid situations where hundreds of non-vaccinated people must stand in close proximity to one another for hours.

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Sports Events Soon to Host Fans, Many Fear Epidemic Consequences

Football stadiums will soon reopen their doors but many fear the lack of restrictions imposed to football fans could have severe effect on the epidemic situation in Hungary.Continue reading

Not only was it unnecessary to have such large numbers of people waiting for vaccination on Friday, but it is also dangerous when considering that the government wants to enact a new phase of reopening on Saturday following the 4 million vaccination mark.

Featured photo by Mariann Katona/Magyar Hang

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