Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was vaccinated with a Chinese-made jab days after Hungary became the first EU member to use the vaccine, which has not been approved by EU regulators.
“I am vaccinated,” said a post on Orban’s official Facebook page alongside photographs and a video showing him receiving a jab from a medical assistant holding a Sinopharm box.
Neither Sinopharm nor Russia’s Sputnik V jab, which Budapest also started rolling out this month in another EU first, are approved by the bloc’s European Medicines Agency (EMA).
But Orban, who has blamed the EU for failing to deliver vaccines fast enough, has urged citizens to put aside concerns about the Chinese vaccine while pro-government media have also promoted its benefits.
President Janos Ader also received a Sinopharm shot Friday a day after the country’s chief surgeon announced the start of mass inoculations with the vaccine.
The first batch of 550,000 Sinopharm jabs from China arrived in Hungary earlier this month accompanied by fanfare in public media.
Budapest expects to get a further one million doses in March and April in total, with 3.5 million more doses arriving in May.
So far, almost half a million Hungarians have received at least one vaccine dose, mostly Pfizer shots, but officials say that the pace of inoculations will double with the newly procured Chinese jabs.
In surveys of preferences among the five vaccines now used in Hungary, Sinopharm ranks last behind three western-developed vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca — as well as Sputnik V.
The inoculation drive comes as an extension of a partial lockdown in place from November until March 15 was announced Thursday following a steep rise in new infection cases.
“Without the Chinese and Russian vaccines we would be in big trouble,” Orban said Friday.
Orban’s critics have accused the 57-year-old premier of pressuring health authorities to approve non-EU vaccines to win favour from China and Russia.
A government decree last month drastically loosened approval criteria of vaccines worldwide.
A leading doctors association said it could not recommend the Chinese or Russian drugs to colleagues “in good conscience” due to inadequate documentation.