The Chinese Sinopharm vaccine is yet again at the center of dispute in Hungary after several press reports surfaced around its alleged low effectiveness. Opposition politicians are demanding transparency from the Orbán government and to release all available information regarding the vaccine. Meanwhile, several experts call for antibody studies to clarify the issue.
The Chinese Sinopharm vaccine received emergency-use approval from Hungarian authorities in February. It is an important asset to the country’s immunization campaign, as more than half a million people have already received at least the first jab of this type of vaccine despite initial skepticism surrounding it.
In the past weeks, however, an increasing number of press reports hinting towards the inefficacy of only administering two jabs of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine have surfaced. Such news came from several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Serbia, and even China.
On top of all that, a few days ago a comment from China’s top disease control official refueled the doubt and mistrust around the vaccine.
Gao Fu, Director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said last Saturday at a conference that China is considering solutions “to solve the problem that the efficacy of its existing vaccines is not high.” Many interpreted the Chinese official’s statement as him admitting the low protection rate of Chinese vaccines. He later refuted the claims, calling it a “complete misunderstanding,” however it didn’t stop the already existing skepticism towards the Chinese vaccines to intensify in Hungary.
As a result, several opposition politicians started demanding Hungarian authorities to release all the data available on the Sinopharm vaccine.
Opposition Párbeszéd co-leader, Tímea Szabó, wrote on Facebook that the Hungarian government must reassure and inform people about the Chinese vaccine.
“It is of common interest to increase confidence in vaccines so that as many people as possible register for the vaccination,” Szabó emphasized.
“There is no pro-government or opposition vaccination, there is only a shocking pandemic situation,” she added.
“Looking away, using the tactic of ‘nothing to see here’ only increases mistrust, but honestly providing information can strengthen the willingness to vaccinate,” she said.
This is especially important now, at the beginning of the government’s reopening plans,” the politician concluded.
According to independent MP Ákos Hadházy, it would be particularly important for the Hungarian government to publish the number of people who became ill or died by vaccine type after the Chinese Director of the CDC “admitted that their vaccine was not effective enough.”
“If there is no problem, then it’s a disgrace that the government does not reassure our elderly compatriots vaccinated with many hundreds of thousands of Eastern vaccines by releasing the exact numbers. And if there is a problem, it’s a disgrace it won’t publish the data and warn those vaccinated that they should take care of themselves until we figure something out (for example, administering a third shot),” Hadházy wrote on social media.
On top of the politicians, experts also called on the government to begin research on the effectiveness of the Sinopharm vaccine.
Research should be urgently launched in Hungary to find out how many and to what extent people vaccinated with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine acquire immunity to the coronavirus infection, suggests medical biologist, Balázs Sarkadi.
Sarkadi says, right now the domestic data is “anecdotal,” as no substantive, broader study has been carried out.
However, according to some unconfirmed reports, several of the patients vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine had not developed measurable antibodies after the second vaccination.
There is currently no reason to believe that the Sinopharm vaccine is ineffective for the majority of people who are vaccinated, the researcher highlights.
However, if it proves ineffective and fails to provide protection for a significant number of patients, it will then create a false sense of security in those already vaccinated and will reduce the potential for herd immunity, endangering the management of the epidemic, Sarkadi emphasizes.
“It would be good to see the facts!”, Miklós Rusvai, a virologist, told daily Népszava. According to him, a representative study of volunteers could quickly clarify whether those vaccinated with the Chinese vaccine have reassuring antibody levels. And if not, action has to be taken.
“Even during clinical trials of the vaccine, three doses were given and thereby a high degree of protection was achieved,” Rusvai said.
“Even now, the solution would be to give a third dose to those who do not have the necessary antibody levels. Either from Sinopharm or a vaccine from another manufacturer,” the virologist said.
However, the chances of comprehensive study in the near future are relatively small.
Népszava also asked Béla Merkely, rector of Semmelweis University, (who was behind Hungary’s past nationwide coronavirus screening program), whether they plan to examine the protection of the vaccinated and unvaccinated population.
However, Merkely replied that the appearance of the U.K variant of the coronavirus and third wave that it triggered overwrote all their previous plans.
As the number of vaccines administered and the rate of infection are very high in the country, there is no point in another large-scale study before the summer.
It is possible that in the autumn the university will launch a protection monitoring, (i.e. antibody) test, the rector said.
Featured photo by Tamás Vasvári/MTI