Hungary first in EU to approve Chinese COVID-19 vaccine

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s medicine and food safety regulator on Friday approved China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, making it the first country in the European Union to do so.

The decision followed a government decree on Thursday that streamlined Hungary’s vaccine approval procedure. Any vaccine that has been administered to at least one million people worldwide may now be approved for use in Hungary — without being assessed by the country’s medicines regulator.

“Today, the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition approved the Sinopharm vaccine, which means that in addition to Pfizer, Moderna, Sputnik and AstraZeneca, we can now count on Sinopharm as well,” Chief Medical Officer Cecila Muller told a virtual press conference.

The decree also allows any vaccine approved by three countries, with at least one being an EU member-state or candidate for EU membership, to sidestep Hungary’s medicines regulator and be approved for use.

Sinopharm has been approved in several countries including Serbia, an EU candidate state, and passed the threshold of 1 million inoculations in November.

Last week, Hungarian authorities became the first in the EU to approve the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and jumped ahead of the European Medicines Agency in approving the AstraZeneca jab.

In December, the EU told Hungary that it could use vaccines procured under separate agreements, but that they would have to remain within Hungary’s borders and be used at its own responsibility.

In a Friday interview with public radio, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, said he would personally choose to be inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine.

“I’m waiting for the Chinese vaccine, I trust in that the most,” Orban said. “Some people think about vaccines ideologically, and they need a western one and not an eastern one. I think the Chinese have known this virus for the longest, and they probably know it the best.”

Hungarian officials have criticized the EU for what they see as a slow vaccine rollout, and in recent months have insisted that procuring vaccines developed in both western and eastern countries, like Russia and China, would ensure that Hungarians get quick access to vaccinations.

In a Facebook post Friday, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said that Hungary had agreed to purchase 5 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, enough to inoculate 2.5 million people. The vaccine will be delivered in four installments across four months, he said.

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