Hungary announced it will purchase Russia’s Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine for research and licensing purposes, in a move that risks creating tensions with EU authorities who insist only formulas made in the bloc should be used, RT reports.
Foreign Minister Peter Sijarto said on Thursday that Budapest will place an order for the vaccine. “Russia will start supplying small batches in December to complete clinical trials and research here,” he told journalists.
Russia became the first country in the world to approve a jab for Covid-19 in September. It drew criticism from some international commentators for the speed of the decision, which the country’s scientists said was based on promising early trial data, which was published in The Lancet. Wide-scale trials are still taking place as Moscow works to increase its capacity to manufacture the vaccine as part of a rollout that President Vladimir Putin has said he hopes will take place before the end of the year.
However, despite all this, Brussels has moved to exclude Sputnik-V from its early order scheme. Eric Mamer of the European Commission said the formulas developed by Russia or China will never be prepaid for as part of the bloc’s vaccination strategy, which only includes companies within the EU.
The news comes as an Israeli hospital chief criticized the narrative around Russia’s vaccine and placed an order of 1.5 million doses for his hospital. Zeev Rotstein, director of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the objections were more political than medical. “It’s like the space race,” he said. “It’s no wonder the Russians called it Sputnik 5. They wanted to remind the Americans who reached space first.”
Rotstein added that the “results and safety we’ve seen have been very good. There’s a good probability that the vaccine is safe. And there’s a reasonable probability … that it’s also effective.”
Hungary’s decision to purchase small quantities of Sputnik-V is likely to be within the rules of the EU, which tightly regulates medicinal products. However, according to Sijarto, the country could increase the purchase of the formula from January 2021 and at least one Hungarian company intends to start manufacturing it locally. This will mean that Hungary will either have to wait for EU approvals, or ignore them.