Hungary is altering its vaccination plan. Instead of ensuring that those who are inoculated once receive their second dose as soon as possible, the vaccination plan will now focus on ensuring that as many people as possible receive their first shot.
This will lead to a greater number of people being vaccinated, but could prove risky given the minimal information on the duration of vaccine protection.
The government is determined that the type of vaccine does not matter, and that preference will only slow down the process of achieving mass inoculation.
Single Dose Vaccination Prioritized in Hungary
To keep up with vaccinations, the government has decided to delay the interval between the first and second jab of both the Pfizer/BioNtech and AstraZeneca vaccines.
Instead of the former three-week time frame, the second jab of the Pfizer vaccine will be administered 35 days after its first, while instead of the former four-week time frame, the second jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be given 12 weeks after its first. The European Medicines Agency has warned that a maximum interval between the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine should be 42 days.
Evidently, the government is expecting the pandemic situation to get much worse, and is counting on the effectiveness of the first jab in mass inoculation, rather than the full inoculation of fewer people.
The decision is not a shot in the dark however, since researchers at Oxford University have found that the AstraZeneca vaccine could perform better if its doses are spaced 12 weeks apart.
Also, Hungary is not the only country extending vaccination intervals. The United Kingdom has decided to give the second dose of its vaccine after 12 weeks, a decision which is also being considered by Germany.
PM Orbán’s Promise on Hungary’s Vaccination
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been confident that the fault of vaccination lies not in the speed at which the country can inoculate its citizens, but in the slow arrival of the vaccines which have been ordered.
In his February 19 interview with Kossuth Rádió, he stated that by Easter, 2.5-2.6 million people will have received their first inoculation, and by the beginning of March 1.2 million people will be vaccinated.
This would mean that everyone who has registered to be vaccinated so far will have received at least their first dose of a vaccine.
To achieve this, the prime minister shared his 8–10-day plan, during which 650 thousand people would be vaccinated. In other words, 65-92 thousand people would be vaccinated every day.
According to independent news portal Telex, by the 9th day, Tuesday, only 280,000 of the 650,000 people were vaccinated, not even half of the goal the prime minister set. It is unlikely that over the course of the next 24 hours, this number will more than double.
State Secretary: “We Are Running a Race With Time”
During the coronavirus operative board’s online press conference, secretary of state István György, head of the taskforce for vaccination, said that “we are running a race with time, and are further speeding up vaccinations.”
For this reason, György said the goal is to vaccinate every currently registered person by April 11. He said that given the slow arrival of vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna, Hungary has chosen to negotiate agreements with China and Russia in order to speed up vaccinations.
Despite the European Medicines Agency not supporting either of these vaccines, the state secretary said that all vaccines are safe, and that those which can be procured the fastest are the ones which will save lives.
Over the next vaccination week, from Wednesday to Wednesday, György says the goal is to vaccinated 529 thousand people.
Semmelweis Rector Warns of Virus Severity
Rector of Semmelweis University Béla Merkely told state media Kossuth Rádió on Monday that the effects of the virus are already visible in Hungary’s healthcare departments. The rector says the Covid-care departments and intensive units are filling up, and the number of people on ventilators is continuously increasing.
However, thanks to all healthcare workers being vaccinated, the situation is not as bad as it could have been.
Merkely also stated that the various mutations of the coronavirus are “possible spreading even faster” among the young and the middle-aged and can cause serious lung infections.
The rector added that eventually an immunity will develop, and that once everyone is vaccinated cases will significantly drop. Still, he is bothered by the fact that only every second person comes in for vaccination once they are called upon by their doctor.
He warned those dealing with heart and circulatory problems to take whatever vaccine they can get as soon as possible, since they are particularly at risk.
Chief Medical Officer Says There Is No Time for Preferences
Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller made a similar statement on Monday, not only to those with a chronic illness, but telling everyone not to “cherry-pick” which vaccine they want according to personal preference, since they may be waiting for weeks.
During Tuesday’s coronavirus press briefing, Müller warned the public that there are now cases of infection which develop into serious sickness within a few hours. Following symptoms people need to be immediately hospitalized.
She emphasized that all vaccines are effective, and that, similarly to her statement one day prior, anyone who is called for vaccination should not hesitate. It can be assumed that she is also implying that given the gravity of the situation, it should not matter which vaccine is available.
Müller also stated that beside the UK variant of the coronavirus, the South African variant has also shown up in five cases so far. She also mentioned that the nation is “impatiently waiting” for the European Medicines Agency to authorize the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine.
Featured photo illustration by Balázs Mohai/MTI