BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The first 550,000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Budapest, a leading health official said on Tuesday, as Hungary prepares to become the first EU country to roll out the Chinese vaccine.
The shots will be offered for use as soon as the authorities have inspected the shipment, the head of the epidemiology department at the National Public Health Centre, Agnes Galgoczi, said in an online news briefing.
The EU has lagged far behind the United States and former EU member Britain in rolling out vaccines. Hungary’s rightwing government, a strong critic of the slow EU rollout, has been the first of the 27 member states to buy and authorise Russian and Chinese vaccines not yet approved by Brussels.
Hungary announced in January that it had reached a deal with Sinopharm to buy 5 million doses of its vaccine, one of two vaccines that China has been exporting worldwide. Last week Hungary became the first EU member to administer Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
Hungary wants to speed up its inoculation programme despite delays in deliveries by Western manufacturers of the shots so far approved by the EU. So far only around 3% of the population has been vaccinated.
In a bid to boost public trust in the Chinese vaccines, government officials point out that neighbouring Serbia, which has a large ethnic Hungarian minority, has been using the Sinopharm shots for weeks.
As of Tuesday, Hungary had reported 389,622 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 13,837 deaths.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; Editing by Gareth Jones)