The government expects the vaccination to end the coronavirus epidemic, as well as the growing economic crisis, however, studies show that currently, a significant portion of the Hungarian population would not be vaccinated with the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available. At the same time, both Hungarian and foreign experts warn that as long as at least 60 percent of the population is not vaccinated, people will still be at risk.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, after consulting with epidemiologists, encouraged the public on Saturday in a video message, saying: “…the vaccine is the solution that is already within sight.” At the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for caution regarding hopes that the vaccine will put a rapid end to the pandemic. According to the WHO, authorization of a vaccine does not mean an instant solution, as vaccination is a long process which requires the majority of the population to be vaccinated so the population will not be at risk. However, the organization also emphazised that only vaccination can be a long-term solution.
Meanwhile, Béla Merkely, rector of Semmelweis University, spoke on Tuesday morning about the coronavirus, saying that the epidemic had entered a so-called plateau phase due to the restrictive measures introduced almost a month ago. According to the rector, it is still worth maintaining the restrictive measures so that in addition to reaching the plateau (i.e stopping the increase in the number of cases), it will also result in a decrease in the numbers soon. He added that “this would allow us to wait until a significant portion of the population is vaccinated.” Merkely also pointed out that as long as at least 60 percent of the population is not vaccinated, people will still be at risk.
There are currently four types of vaccines that seem to be available soon in the world. Out of these, the evaluation of the U.S.-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could be completed in late December, meaning the vaccines could arrive in January at best, but production capacities make this questionable for now. The Russian vaccine is already being tested in laboratories in Hungary, but as the Russians have shortened the testing, there is a good chance that the Hungarian tests will be delayed. For the time being, the Hungarian government is only negotiating the acquisition of the Chinese vaccine for testing.
At the same time, Cecília Müller, National Chief Medical Officer, announced last Wednesday that a new government site will be launched soon, where Hungarians can apply for the vaccination on a voluntary basis. This week, the website was launched at vakcinainfo.gov.hu. The vaccination is voluntary and free, and those who register will be the first to know when the vaccine will be available and what the next steps will be to receive it.
János Szlávik, chief physician at the South Pest Central Hospital, said last week that the vaccine will be voluntary and free, and that “the population should be vaccinated as soon as possible” after the vaccine is released. According to the Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore, the largest and most accurate database on the spread of the virus, a 60-70 percent vaccination is required for flock immunity to develop, which is in line with what Merkely and Szlávik also emphazised.
However, although experts and politicians both warn that the vaccine will be the best – and probably the only – solution in the long term, the acceptance of coronavirus vaccines among Hungarians is only 20-36 percent, according to a representative poll conducted by the Publicus Institute on behalf of leftist daily Népszava.
According to the results of the study, Hungarians have less confidence in Russian and Chinese vaccines (20-21 percent) and would rather vaccinate themselves with American or European-developed drugs (31-36 percent). These figures are partly in line with a previous survey commissioned by Euronews a few weeks ago: at the time, only 17 percent of those surveyed said they would take the vaccine and 47 percent strongly rejected the idea.
Overall, it seems that Hungarians are still skeptical, although Hungarian decision-makers and experts have been emphasizing for weeks that the epidemic curve can only be broken by vaccination. Without vaccination, restrictions can only be temporarily lifted, while vaccines can ease the burden on healthcare, and may end or at least ease the economic crisis as well. A survey of 19 countries by the scientific journal Nature shows that the vaccine is more expected even in countries where the propensity to vaccinate is otherwise lower than in Hungary, such as Poland or Russia.
featured photo: Szergej Ilnyickij/MTI/EPA