Hungary becomes first EU country to buy Russia’s Sputnik coronavirus vaccine

Foreign minister Péter Szijjártó announces acquisition of 2 million doses as European frustrations grow over delays in deliveries of Western alternatives

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 22 January 2021 17:09 GMT
Related video: 'I decided to take the Sputnik vaccine - but is it safe?'

Hungary has become the first EU member state to sign a deal for Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, acquiring 2 million doses.

Foreign minister Péter Szijjártó made the announcement at a press conference in Moscow following trade talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov but did not say how much the arrangement would end up costing Budapest.

“Under the terms of our agreement, we are buying an amount sufficient to inoculate 1 million people,” Mr Szijjártó said.

“This represents 2 million doses in three tranches. An amount to inoculate 300,000 people in the first month, for half a million people in the second month and 200,000 people in the third.”

The agreement comes just days after Hungary’s pharmaceutical regulator granted approval to both Sputnik V and the UK’s Oxford-AstraZeneca version, as Budapest strives to lift lockdown measures to boost its economy while sidestepping the growing impatience being experienced across Europe over delays in deliveries of Western vaccines.

The European Medicines Agency has yet to approve either the Russian vaccine or the AstraZeneca alternative but is expected to reach a verdict on the latter two on 29 January.

Scientists have raised eyebrows at the speed at which Moscow launched its vaccine, unveiled by the Gamaleya Research Institute in August, giving the necessary regulatory go-ahead and beginning mass vaccinations before full trials confirming its safety and efficacy had been completed.

Moscow claims Sputnik V is 92 per cent effective at protecting people from Covid-19 based on interim results but has yet to publish the full dataset from its trials.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday that his country cannot begin to lift social restrictions until it is in a position to carry out a mass inoculation programme. He said the best approach was to authorise the use of several vaccines because competition would force manufacturers to speed up their shipments.

“We don't need explanations, we need vaccines,” Mr Orbán told state radio.

The authoritarian has pursued what he has called “good pragmatic relations” with Vladimir Putin’s Russia ever since he came to power in 2010. His nation is heavily dependent on natural gas imported from the Eastern European power, whose state energy company, Rosatom, is building a nuclear power plant on its territory.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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