More opportunities for Pfizer/BioNTech vaccinations can soon be made available once more of the vaccine arrives to Hungary, according to Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás. The minister addressed Friday’s single-day Pfizer vaccination opportunity, saying that it made it clear that people are willing to vaccinate themselves if their preferred vaccine type is available. The availability of different vaccines appears to have an impact on people’s vaccination willingness, since Hungary’s inoculation rate has noticeably slowed down since Friday’s Pfizer wave.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced last Friday morning that registration and vaccination for Pfizer/BioNTech would be available for that day alone, after which the vaccine would be set aside for 16-18-year-olds. He later added graduating teachers to this exclusion.
What followed was a day of disorganization and chaos, as the National eHealth Infrastructure (EESZT) database, the only website available for Hungary’s vaccine registry, crashed likely due to the overwhelming number of people wanting to set an appointment for one of the 100 thousand Pfizer vaccines available that day. However, the government stated at the time that a cyber attack had been launched against the site.
Huge lines of people formed in front of vaccination points, and many who were not registered for an appointment were still able to get vaccinated due to the logistical error and lack of communication that came of the EESZT crash.
State Sec: Left-Wing Responsible for Friday’s Vaccination Problems
According to state secretary Tamás Vargha, the anti-vaccination politics of the Hungarian Left is to be blamed for the overwhelming number of people wanting Pfizer vaccinations.
Vargha said that “the reason why so many people believe that the Pfizer vaccine is the only effective one is because the Left continuously displayed it as such to the public.”
Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás, however, noted that Friday’s events make it clear that people are more willing to get vaccinated if their preferred vaccine types are available.
PMO Head Discusses Vaccination Willingness
Gulyás gave an interview to Inforádió regarding the events that transpired on Friday, saying that the investigation into the EESZT crash is still ongoing, but they are not denying the possibility that it was simply overwhelmed with requests for registration.
According to the minister, it should take another one or two weeks until everyone registered for vaccination is vaccinated. While this is an excellent development, over half of Hungary’s population is still not vaccinated. Since the vaccine is optional, the government has no other choice but to bolster vaccination willingness through its promotion campaigns.
Government campaigns may be necessary now, since following the wave of Pfizer vaccinations on Friday, Hungary’s vaccination rate has slowed down significantly.
Hungary’s Vaccination Rate Slows Down
Currently Sinopharm and AstraZeneca are the only vaccines Hungarians can register for, with hundreds of thousands of doses available. But it seems that the next, younger age group of people set to be vaccinated considers the decision less urgent, and would rather wait out the arrival of other options.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at the beginning of April that the vaccination program would noticeably speed up after 4 million vaccinations are reached, and that Hungary may achieve 8 million first-dose vaccinations by June.
Unfortunately, despite the total stock of vaccines in Hungary being enough to inoculate everyone who has registered, Hungary’s inoculation rate has fallen from the expected 100 thousand daily shots to a total of 76 thousand shots in the last three days.
Lack of Enthusiasm for Sinopharm?
Potentially further impacting the lack of enthusiasm towards Sinopharm vaccinations is the World Health Organization’s recent announcement that it is doubtful of the Chinese vaccine’s effectiveness on people above the age of 60, even if they receive two doses.
WHO is also doubtful that a two-dose Sinopharm vaccination is effective enough on people with co-morbidities or people whose medical condition worsens their affliction with Covid-19.
Even Gao Fu, Director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has stated that China is considering solutions “to solve the problem that the efficacy of its existing vaccines is not high.”
Foreign Minister Speaks Highly of Pfizer-BioNTech
The Orbán government hardly ever mentioned the large number of Pfizer-BioNTech deliveries in the past few months, while they, especially Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, often highlighted the arrival, even the planned arrival, of Sputnik V and Sinopharm vaccines. PMO Head Gergely Gulyás went as far as repeatedly claiming that Sputnik V and Sinopharm are better vaccines than Pfizer-BioNTech’s. The government has even published a table to prove its point – which, however, has been debunked by multiple experts, who deemed it unprofessional, some even calling it manipulative.
The developments of the past few days show that the government’s tone has noticeably changed. Now, meeting with Pfizer’s Hungarian director, Minister Szijjártó praised the German-American vaccine, highlighting that Hungary’s vaccination achievements “would not have been possible without Pfizer’s supplies.”
Hungary has ordered 10.8 million Pfizer vaccine doses, Szijjártó noted. As a result, the minister underlined, Hungary will have received a total of 2.8 million doses of the vaccine, more than it has received from any other vaccine manufacturer.
He also added that, according to the goverment’s plans, Pfizer will play a big role in the vaccination of young people.
Szijjártó noted that he had paid a visit to the company’s Hungarian office as a sign of respect and to thank its employees.
Hungarians Are Allowed to Choose Their Vaccines
Despite the 1.3 million Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines arriving to Hungary this month, Viktor Orbán said people will need to wait for the vaccine, since it is being set aside for 16-18-year-olds, as well as graduating teachers.
But the prime minister also stated, before the vaccination program began, that everyone will be able to choose which vaccine they prefer. He clarified back in November of 2020 that
People will decide. As vaccination will not be compulsory, if there are several vaccines, everyone will be able to decide for themselves which one they trust most: whether they prefer the business-centered approach of a US corporation, the state-developed Russian vaccine, or the Chinese – which is even more state-developed, if I may put it that way. Everyone will decide which one they trust. Our task is to help them – the public – to have a choice.”
Now that the majority of those who were at the greatest risk of Covid (chronically ill people, elders) have been vaccinated, the slowing of Hungary’s rapid vaccination rate could be attributed to registered Hungarians choosing to wait out the arrival of their preferred vaccines.
While there is no need to overanalyze the situation, it is clear that while the one day of Pfizer vaccinations brought thousands of people to vaccination points, the absence of the American-German vaccine is keeping people at home.
Featured photo illustration by Attila Balázs/MTI