BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary’s government is in talks with all possible suppliers to make up for an expected shortfall of half a million vaccine doses against COVID-19, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff said on Thursday.
Hungary has been at the forefront of the European Union’s inoculation drive, while its death rates have also been among the highest in the world. As of Thursday, it had vaccinated 3.1 million people, or nearly a third of its population.
“Inoculations require vaccines and we know that another one of the shots ordered by Brussels will be missing, the (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine will not arrive. That means half a million fewer shots,” Gergely Gulyas told an online briefing.
The European Medicines Agency is expected to issue a recommendation next week on use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, following reports of rare blood clots similar to those reported for the AstraZeneca shot.
The EMA, the EU’s regulator, says it continues to believe the benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the risks of side effects.
Gulyas said all shots used in Hungary, including those of AstraZeneca and China’s Sinopharm, were safe and effective. He was responding to local media reports that some people had still fallen ill or were not sufficiently immunised after being inoculated with the Chinese vaccine.
Hungary, with a population around 10 million, has so far recorded 736,982 COVID-19 infections and 24,521 deaths. Nearly 10,000 patients are currently in hospitals, more than 1,100 of them on ventilators, which is pressuring the healthcare system.
“If we can make up for the shortfall in Johnson & Johnson shots, then we can inoculate everyone (registered) by the end of May, then we will have more vaccines than the number of people registered,” Gulyas said.
With daily deaths still around record highs, Orban is having to strike a balance between curbing the spread of the virus and minimising the economic damage of lockdown restrictions. He announced further moderate easing steps on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Anita Komuves and Gergely Szakacs; editing by Gareth Jones)