Hungarians have begun receiving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from China's Sinopharm, becoming the first European Union citizens to get it.
It comes as Hungary extended restrictions to tackle the virus on Thursday, recording 4,385 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since December 17.
Much of Central Europe is now gripped by the third wave of the pandemic and Hungary is no exception. Officials are warning that cases are expected to rise "dramatically" in the coming weeks. But with the roll-out of Sinopharm's vaccine, Hungary now has five jabs in its armory, the highest number of any EU member state.
Hungarian officials have criticized the EU's vaccination process, which has been hampered by production delays. To add to its share of vaccines as part of the EU procurement, Hungary turned to Russia and China for additional supplies. Both vaccines were approved by Hungarian regulators in late January.
This week, doctors' offices around the country received between 50 and 55 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine. As part of phase two of the vaccination campaign, they will be given to Hungarians over the age of 60. Polls have suggested Hungarians prefer other vaccines to Sinopharm's and local media have quoted doctors around the country struggling to persuade patients to take it.
At a clinic in Dunavarsány, just south of Budapest, Szabolcs Bekassy says he is encouraging his patients to take it. He said: "Doctors had concerns about the Chinese vaccine as we don't know the results of phase three trials. But at the same time, doctors have consulted with virologists and their opinion was, even without knowing the efficacy of the vaccine, the most important thing is to inoculate this age group as soon as possible as we know that to use any vaccine gives better security than using no vaccine."
Bekassy says persuading patients is simply a matter of communication. One patient who received the jab from him on Thursday was easily convinced. He said: "You can read all kinds of information in the media, pros and cons. But our doctor has explained to us how it works and explained that no harm could be done. So let's get on with it as soon as possible.”
Five million Sinopharm vaccine doses are due to arrive in Hungary by the end of May, enough to inoculate a quarter of the population. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he could get the jab as early as next week. He has previously said Sinopharm's would be his vaccine of choice.