The Consumer Protection Department of the Budapest Government Office has initiated proceedings against a private company called International Vaccination Center, where you can register for a Covid-19 vaccination for five thousand forints. The government agency is investigating whether the company is engaging in unlawful commercial practices.
The price does not include the cost of the vaccine, it only gives the patient the right to the vaccination; however, the company said that in return, the price of the medical consultation required before vaccination will be free of charge. The administration of the vaccine will cost 1,450 forints (EUR 3.95) at the private company. Two doses are needed for most of the currently licensed vaccines, which comes to three thousand forints in total.
Even though the company has not yet revealed the type of vaccine they would use and how much of it they would get, they acknowledged that the total cost of a Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for instance, would cost about 28,000 forints (EUR 76) at a private medical center. (Two doses of the vaccine is 2×10,000 forints plus 2×1,450 for the cost of the injection and 5,000 forints for the prepaid registration fee). However, there has been no evidence so far that the company possesses any type of vaccines.
The company is selling reservation rights despite the fact that in February, Gergely Gulyás, the Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, said it was impossible for private services to provide vaccinations against the coronavirus for money.
Last year in November, the Ministry of Technology and Innovation had launched a consumer protection lawsuit against the company for unlawful commercial practice. The company already started to sell vaccine registrations when there weren’t any vaccines in the country. According to the findings from November, the company engaged in deceptive commercial practices. The exclusive use of the term “International Vaccination Center” has given the impression that it can be linked to a state entity that allows people to register for a state-organized vaccination. As a result of pressure from authorities, the private company had to redesign its webpage. The company displayed the inscription “private healthcare provider” on their website under its logo. Warning text has also been placed at the top of the vaccine pre-booking subpage, with a direct link to the address of the free government vaccination registration. However, the investigation had found no problems with their reservation system.
This time, the new proceedings initiated by the Consumer Protection Department was launched because new circumstances arose as the national vaccination strategy progressed. During the investigation, the government office will be looking at whether the company has been engaging in unfair commercial practices by letting people book vaccinations for money, but they are also looking at their information about vaccinations, as it is unclear from where they bought vaccines.
“As neither the legal environment nor our practice has changed, we expect that another investigation will also confirm that everything is fine,” -wrote Roland Kámány, the executive of International Vaccination Center.
As the company argues, the importance of pre-booking is that the vaccinations will be extremely difficult to get in the first few months, so people should sign up for the pre-booking program. Moreover, the reservation is recommended for those who do not want to wait months before they can receive the vaccine. They also add on to this by claiming that the pre-booking fee of five thousand forints will be reimbursed if the vaccine is free or if the patient can get it for free from elsewhere and can prove it. The money will also be refunded if no vaccine is available by the end of the year, the company promised.
The International Vaccine Center admits that it has been selling vaccine reservations since August 20th. By November 28th, a total of 4,997 people had booked and almost 25 million forints (EUR 68,300) had been paid in. At the time, the company said that “under the most optimistic scenario,” registrants could start being vaccinated as early as the end of March. However, they could not reveal what type of vaccine they would use and how much of it they would have.
Among other things, the government agency obliged the company to disclose how much it had collected as a pre-booking fee so far, from whom they would buy the vaccine, and when they intend to start vaccinations. The communication also states that currently only EU member states are allowed to buy vaccines.
Featured photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI