Hungary was the first country in Europe to launch its Covid booster shot campaign at the beginning of August. So far, according to official data, relatively few people have taken advantage of the opportunity. Most of those who have taken part had previously received Sinopharm, which is not surprising as there is still an ongoing debate about whether the Chinese vaccine is able to provide sufficient protection, particularly in older age groups.
Starting on August 1st, a third booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine was made available in Hungary, recommended mainly for elderly people, people with chronic diseases, and immunocompromised patients. The shot can be obtained from GPs or at vaccination points, four months after having administered the second inoculation.
In the past ten days, however, relatively few people have taken advantage of this opportunity, with 64,000 people having booked an appointment for a third vaccination, of which only 52,000 have actually received a shot.
Several GPs shared similar experiences with government-critical news site Telex, most of them saying that they have so far simply informed their patients of their options, but have not yet administered a third dose.
Doctors say that those who have received Chinese Sinopharm are the ones most interested in a third shot, but some people want another dose after receiving AstraZeneca or Sputnik V, too.
This is not surprising. Although only a very small percentage of people over the age of 60 were included in Sinopharm’s clinical trials, the vaccine has nevertheless been approved in Hungary for use in the older age group.
Meanwhile, several news reports surfaced in recent months regarding very low levels of antibodies having been measured in many people after receiving the Chinese vaccine.
Scientific consensus on whether this is a clear sign of the development of inadequate immunity level after a Sinopharm vaccine has not yet been reached, but many say especially in light of the delta variant and a possible fourth wave, it may be worthwhile to take advantage of a third vaccine shot.
One GP has told the news site that they believe that by allowing a third dose, the government is trying to cover up the fact that Sinopharm, offers less protection.
Recently, a photo of a patient information leaflet issued by the South Pest Hospital Center for the third vaccination was also posted on social media. In it, people over the age of 60 who received the Sinopharm vaccine were classified in the same group as those with reduced immune function, reports liberal 444.hu.
The document essentially stated that priority is given for health reasons to Hungarians over 60 vaccinated with Sinopharm.
According to the portal – although the government does not want to admit it – this is proof that the Chinese vaccine does not work properly for many elderly people, while more than half a million of them have been inoculated with that vaccine in Hungary.
Campaign for vaccination of the elderly
Meanwhile, GPs are constantly being given new responsibilities by the National Public Health Center, which many doctors say is making it much more difficult to provide care for patients.
Now it is up to them to visit their unvaccinated elderly patients over 60 one by one and convince them of the importance of vaccination.
According to a circular obtained by Telex, GPs must not only visit the unvaccinated elderly one by one, but the government office also expects a detailed report of the visits.
The site writes that GPs must report by noon every Friday on the number of people over 60 they have visited, and how many of them have been convinced and vaccinated.
“I’d like to ask, if I want to properly take care of my patients, how do I fit in my time to also play a door-to-door salesman?”, a GP complained to Telex.
Those who refuse the vaccination are also supposed to sign a declaration, which raises a number of questions itself: why should anyone be asked to sign a declaration declining an otherwise voluntary vaccination?
Featured photo illustration by Tibor Rosta/MTI