People & Money

EU Concerned Over Hungary’s Plans to Import Russian Coronavirus Vaccine

The findings of declining confidence in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Nigeria mirror trends in political instability and religious extremism in these settings,” the authors from the Vaccine Confidence Project note. “Over the past few years in Pakistan and Nigeria, new waves of misinformation surrounding the polio vaccine have been circulating.

The European Commission has warned against Hungary’s plans to import Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, which has not been authorised by the European Medicines Agency.

Last week, Russia’s trade minister revealed that Hungary would be getting samples of the shots after its request to run laboratory tests and clinical trials of the vaccine, ahead of a largescale order in January 2021.

Budapest’s plan on the Russian vaccine is an unprecedented step for a member state of the European Union, a bloc it joined in 2004. The country, which has a population of 9.7 million people, has recorded more than 160,000 positive cases of Covid-19 with over 3,000 deaths.

EU rules require vaccines to be assessed by the EMA before it can be marketed in any member state. Bypassing the medicines regulator to roll out the Russian jab could raise safety concerns and damage public trust in potential coronavirus vaccinations, a spokesman for the Commission said Thursday.

“The question arises whether a member state would want to administer to its citizens a vaccine that has not been reviewed by EMA. This is where the authorisation process and the vaccine confidence meet,” the commission said in a statement without specifying which country or vaccine. But only Budapest has announced such radical plans.

Also Read: Return to the Old Normal: Six Things to Know About Pfizer’s Coronavirus Vaccine

Already, Hungarians have an internationally exceptional mistrust in a vaccine. A recent survey by Opinio revealed that almost half of all Hungarians would “definitely not inject themselves” with a coronavirus vaccine if one became available, suggesting the country faces an uphill task if it will get overcome the pandemic.

The Commission adds that mass Covid-19 inoculation would become much harder if citizens began to question a vaccine that had not been approved. “If our citizens start questioning the safety of a vaccine, if it should not have gone through rigorous scientific assessment to prove its safety and efficacy, it will be much harder to vaccinate a sufficient proportion of the population,” the statement read.

Even across the world, there is no universal willingness to accept a new coronavirus vaccine, a global survey published in October found. Generally, there has been a significant drop in confidence levels in the safety of vaccines.

A September study published in the medical journal The Lancet, which compares 2015 results with surveys completed in 2019, finds that confidence in vaccines eroded in many countries, including Nigeria.

“The findings of declining confidence in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Nigeria mirror trends in political instability and religious extremism in these settings,” the authors from the Vaccine Confidence Project note. “Over the past few years in Pakistan and Nigeria, new waves of misinformation surrounding the polio vaccine have been circulating.”

Also Read: Moderna Vaccine: A Coronavirus Vaccine for Poor Countries?

Tensions over Hungary’s decision to move outside the bloc-wide vaccination programme adds to already fraught relations between the commission and Budapest.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban is known for his hard-line against migration, an authoritarian grip on power, and close relations with Russia, all of which have caused repeated clashes with the EU. Hungary, which has a gross domestic product of $158 billion as of 2018, together with Poland, is also reportedly blocking the bloc’s huge coronavirus economic rescue plan and seven-year budget.

Russia had touted Sputnik V as the world’s first Covid-19 vaccine approved for civilian use, but limited public data on its safety and efficacy makes Moscow’s claims about the drug questionable. 

More so, the European bloc has deals in place for the supply of over one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines with several pharmaceutical companies, to standardise their availability and use across the bloc. But Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto has argued that vaccine procurement should not be politicised “since this is about people’s lives.”

 

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