The rector of Semmelweis University received his first coronavirus vaccination on Thursday. Instead of a western vaccine, he chose the Russian Sputnik V, which clearly sends a message. Meanwhile, the debate over the Eastern, and especially the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine continues. The Orbán government and some experts are trying to convince people that they have nothing to fear, while many do not consider the Chinese manufacturer’s product transparent enough to be considered safe.
Three months after his recovery from Covid-19, Béla Merkely, the rector of Semmelweis University, has received his first jab against the virus.
Merkely, who is a member of PM Orbán’s coronavirus advisory group, was inoculated along with four of his colleagues with the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. In connection with his vaccination, Merkely emphasized that he believes it was vital that the leaders and staff of Semmelweis University demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations through their own example. Their goal is to increase public trust in vaccines.
Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI
Merkely was not the first expert in Hungary who decided to share the news about his inoculation. Pictures of Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller were also posted on social media showing her receiving both the first and second jabs of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
It is certainly not a coincidence that Merkely chose the Sputnik V. It has long been known that although general public trust in vaccines has been improving in Hungary, a large portion of people are still skeptical of the Russian Sputnik V and especially the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.
Meanwhile, the British virus variant has arrived in Hungary, and with it, the third wave of the coronavirus epidemic seems inevitable; therefore, vaccination is key to finally getting over the pandemic and the months of restrictions. Furthermore, the vaccination is hindered by many factors, most importantly the limited number of licensed vaccines available in Hungary.
But the debate over the Eastern vaccines is not subsiding. While many experts and government politicians say both the Russian and Chinese vaccines are reliable and effective against the virus, most opposition parties are fiercely attacking the government, mainly because of the latter one.
Orbán chooses the Chinese vaccine
There is such a high level of mistrust of the Chinese vaccine that Viktor Orbán himself tried to “promote” it in an interview stating that he would personally choose the Chinese vaccine, but also highlighted the reliability of the Russian one: “I will have myself vaccinated when it’s my turn,” he said. “I’m often asked, and I say I’ll wait for the Chinese vaccine, which is the one I trust the most. But we’re not all the same, and other people will trust other vaccines. When we were children, we were inoculated with Soviet vaccines, and so there are some who trust the Russian vaccine the most. There are others who think about the vaccine in ideological terms: they want vaccines from the West, not the East.”
My standpoint is that the Chinese have known this virus the longest, so I believe that they probably also know the most about it. Anyway, I’m waiting for my turn, and if at that point I have a choice of vaccines, I’ll ask for the Chinese one.
When asked about which vaccine he would choose, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said that for him the manufaturer of the vaccine has no relevance, he trusts the Hungarian authorities and would take any that is available when it is his “turn.”
Infectologist Szlávik: Chinese vaccine safe and effective
János Szlávik, chief infectologist at the South-Pest Hospital Center similarly defended the Sinopharm version.
According to Szlávik, the Chinese vaccine is safe and effective, there is no reason to be wary of it.
30 million people all over the world have already been vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine, it would have been revealed if there was a serious problem with it, he said. According to the infectologist, the Russian vaccine has also turned out to be “rather great.”
“What matters is not what you vaccinate yourself with, but that you vaccinate yourself and become protected,” said Szlávik.
Skepticism surrounds Chinese vaccine
In contrast, toxicologist and emergency room doctor Gábor Zacher revealed in an interview that he would not choose the Chinese vaccine as very little is known about it. While the available documentation of the Pfizer vaccine is 20,000 pages long, the Chinese vaccine is only a few hundred, Zacher pointed out. If decision-makers wouldn’t blow smoke and provide detailed information, he would consider vaccinating himself with the Chinese product, he added.
Similar criticisms have been voiced by Hungary’s opposition parties.
The parties agree that the Chinese vaccine has been produced in a less transparent way than vaccines of Western companies, and has not even received permission from the relevant European authorities.
The fiercest critic of the Chinese vaccine is perhaps liberal Democratic Coalition led by Hungary’s former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. The party has even launched a petition against allowing inoculation in Hungary with the Chinese Covid-19 vaccine until it is approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The debate is likely to continue about whether the Eastern vaccines, especially the Chinese one, can be considered reliable. For the time being, the authorities are still investigating the effectiveness of the product by Sinopharm, despite the fact that the Orbán government has already signed a contract with the Chinese manufacturer for the purchase of 5 million doses, of which 550,000 already arrived in Hungary on Tuesday.
In the featured photo: Béla Merkely receiving the Russian Sputnik V vaccine. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI