All the necessary technical conditions are in place to begin swift mass vaccinations against Covid-19 in Hungary once vaccines are delivered in larger quantities, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a radio interview on Sunday.
Hungary currently has enough vaccines to inoculate 35,000 people, Orbán told public broadcaster Kossuth Radio, noting that health-care workers are the first to get the Covid shot under the government’s vaccination plan.
In the event that the country would suddenly have access to millions of vaccines, the shots would be administered at over 10,000 locations, the prime minister said, adding that the vaccinations would take place at the regular electoral polling stations.
Orbán added, however, that Hungary is not expected to receive millions of vaccines in the foreseeable future, as not even the vaccine producers are in the position to project when they will be able to ship more doses or how many.
“The vaccines coming from the west are being handled by the European Union,” he said, noting that member states have agreed to place their orders together and the doses are to be distributed among them by Brussels. “I’m not satisfied with the pace, because there are manufacturers whose products were available sooner in Canada, Britain and Israel than for instance in the European Union,” the prime minister said, adding, at the same time, that Brussels was not to blame for “being at the mercy of pharmaceutical companies”.
Orbán said EU member states also had the option of ordering vaccines on their own in addition to the orders they place with the other member states. Hungary and Germany are two countries that are exercising this option, he noted. This, however, is not considered a violation of the agreement with the other member states, he said, noting that the deal does not bar countries from purchasing more vaccines through bilateral agreements.
The government is primarily focused on vaccines being developed in the East, Orbán said. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is unlikely to be available in the quantities Hungary would need, he said, adding that though China’s vaccine was looking more promising, it was not available yet, either. The prime minister said that ideally, people would get to choose whether they prefer to be inoculated with a vaccine developed in the West or in China.
Orbán also said he would not want to “speculate” as to how quickly Hungary would be receiving more vaccines. “If we have a lot of vaccines, we’ll vaccinate a lot of people quickly, but if they arrive at a slower pace, then the vaccinations will also be slower and fewer people will get the shot,” he said.
The prime minister dismissed as “falsehoods” claims by the opposition that the government did not have a vaccination plan. He argued that both he himself and the chief medical officer had made it clear multiple times that health-care workers would be vaccinated first, followed by social-sector employees, those vulnerable to the virus, the elderly and law-enforcement workers.
Orbán said the pandemic had also taught countries to build the industrial capacities necessary to make their own vaccine, even if those investments are lossmaking “in times of peace”. Hungary’s government, he said, had done everything necessary to build those capacities.
The prime minister also said the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was “actually a Hungarian vaccine”. He said he had recently “spoken at length” with Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó, a senior vice president at BioNTech, and had been told that though “a German professor is also involved in all of this, most of the scientists doing the research are Hungarian”.
“So it’s only a bit of a stretch to say that this is a Hungarian vaccine developed using American money and Hungarian minds,” Orbán said.
The prime minister also said that despite the criticisms from the leftist opposition, Hungary’s health-care sector had “fared a lot better” than those of many of the more prosperous countries. “People didn’t die here because of a lack of hospital care, we didn’t have people lying in the hallways and doctors didn’t have to decide who to save because of a shortage in ventilators,” he said.
Orbán praised the efforts of the country’s doctors, nurses and teachers, who he said were the reason why many jobs were saved, as parents were not forced to stay home with their children.
“They often say we’re a disunited people and at times there are specific examples that illustrate this, but overall in times of serious trouble, it turns out that discipline, unity and the ability to bear responsibility for each other is strong in Hungarians,” Orbán said. He noted that Hungary had not seen any protests against the coronavirus-related restrictions “even though they weren’t enjoyable for anyone”. The prime minister also noted the large-scale wage increases implemented in the health-care sector.
Hungary managed to rein in the second wave of the pandemic, Orbán said, adding that the goal now was to prevent a third one.
He said it was “hard to say” if the government could afford to relax restrictions before the arrival of the vaccine, arguing that if Hungary does not receive the vaccine on time, infections could flare up again.
“Everyone wants to open up again . but if we don’t get the timing right, we could end up seeing a third wave,” Orbán said.
Featured photo illustration by Tamás Kovács/MTI