The Czech Republic could be on the way to become the next European Union member to seek a COVID-19 vaccine outside the bloc's common procurement program, after its prime minister visited Hungary Friday to consult with authorities on their experiences with Russian and Chinese vaccines.
Andrej Babis met with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in Budapest where the two leaders discussed Hungary's purchase of the Russian Sputnik V and Chinese Sinopharm vaccines, neither of which have been approved by the EU medicines regulator.
At a press conference following the meeting, Babis said he had received detailed information on Hungary’s methods of approving and acquiring vaccines outside the EU's procurement framework.
"Vaccines are not a political question, but one of safety," Babis said, adding that the origin of a vaccine should not influence decisions on whether to use it.
“We need a safe vaccine and we need it now ... I do all I can to get as many vaccines as possible, if they’re safe,” he said.
Both Orban and Babis have been critical of the EU's slow vaccine rollout, and suggested that countries pursuing their own procurement agreements would receive doses faster. In January, Hungary became the only EU country to issue emergency approval to Sputnik V, and approved the Sinopharm vaccine last week.
The country received 40,000 doses of Sputnik V on Tuesday and could begin administering them next week, Orban said in a Friday interview with public radio.
Babis was accompanied to Budapest by a team of health experts, including his adviser and former health minister Roman Prymula, who consulted with Hungarian authorities on vaccination strategies.
Speaking to journalists before departing for the Hungarian capital, the prime minister acknowledged that the pandemic was worsening in his country, where nearly 17,000 people have lost their lives to the virus so far.
More than 327,000 people have been vaccinated in the Czech Republic, according to its health ministry.
Babis will travel to Belgrade next Wednesday where he will confer with the Serbian government on its experiences with the pandemic, he told journalists early Friday. Serbia, like Hungary, has authorized the use of Sinopharm and Sputnik V, and has received around 300,000 doses of the Russian jab so far.
The Balkan country has administered around 7.7 doses per 100 people of the Pfizer, Sputnik and Sinopharm vaccines, more than any country in Europe except the United Kingdom.
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