Chinese vaccine arrives in Hungary, a first in the EU

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MTVA - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund

Boxes containing vaccines are unloaded from a Hungarian Airbus 330 cargo plane as the first batch of the vaccine against the new coronavirus produced by Sinopharm of China arrives at Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport in Budapest, Hungary, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021. The vaccine will not be used without its examination and approval by the National Public Health Center of Hungary. (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP)

BUDAPEST – A shipment of COVID-19 vaccines produced in China arrived in Hungary on Tuesday, making it the first of the European Union's 27 nations to receive a Chinese vaccine.

A jet carrying 550,000 vaccine doses developed by the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm landed at Budapest’s international airport after flying in from Beijing. The shipment is enough to treat 275,000 people with the two-dose jab, Dr. Agnes Galgoczy of the National Public Health Center told a press conference.

“With this vaccine, five different types are now available in Hungary so that we may get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Galgoczy said, adding that vaccine shots won't begin until the shipment is evaluated by the National Public Health Center.

Hungarian health authorities were the first in the EU to approve the Sinopharm jab for emergency use on Jan. 29. That came after a government decree streamlined Hungary’s vaccine approval process by allowing any vaccine administered to at least 1 million people worldwide to be used without undergoing review by the country’s medicines regulator.

The country expects to receive 5 million total doses of the Sinopharm vaccine over the next four months, enough to treat 2.5 million people in the country of nearly 10 million.

Hungarian officials, including Prime Minister Viktor Orban, have been critical of the EU's common vaccine procurement program, claiming the bloc's slow rollout of shots is costing lives.

“If vaccines aren’t coming from Brussels, we must obtain them from elsewhere ... One cannot allow Hungarians to die simply because Brussels is too slow in procuring vaccines,” Orban said last month.

Hungary has also agreed to purchase 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, which hospitals began administering in Budapest last week.