Hungary buys Sputnik vaccines for 1m people, saying EU has been ‘too slow’

‘Hungarians need the vaccine, not an explanation’ about why it is not available, says PM

Hungary has agreed to buy enough doses of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine to inoculate 1 million people against coronavirus, becoming the first EU member to turn to Moscow after complaining about the pace of the bloc's own vaccine procurement programme.

"It is a great honour and pleasure for me to announce that today we have signed an agreement under which Russia will deliver the vaccine to Hungary in three stages," Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said in Moscow on Friday.

“Speeding up vaccination is a national priority. Due to slow deliveries of the vaccine we were forced to look for a new source to secure quick deliveries of a reliable vaccine,” Russian media quoted him as saying.

Mr Szijjarto said Hungary expected to receive 2 million doses of the two-part vaccine.


The announcement came after Hungary gave emergency approval to Sputnik V and another Covid-19 vaccine made by Britain's AstraZeneca, even though neither has been cleared for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Too slow

Hungary is among several EU states that accuse the bloc of being too slow to approve, buy and distribute vaccines under its own procurement plan. The EMA has so far only cleared vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and says it may give the green light to the AstraZeneca vaccine on January 29th.

"Hungarians need the vaccine, not an explanation" about why it is not available, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.

"We need the vaccine because that means life... After the epidemic there will be time for member states to examine whether or not it was a good decision to entrust the procurement of the vaccine to Brussels, " added the nationalist leader, who is at loggerheads with the EU on a host of issues.

Mr Orban, who courts close ties with Moscow and Beijing and is loath to criticise their authoritarian leaders, said "China will start sending vaccines as well if it receives the required emergency licence in Hungary".

“If there is competition then the manufacturers will get a move on,” he added, saying that coronavirus restrictions in Hungary “cannot be lifted until mass vaccination begins... It all depends on how much vaccine can be acquired.”

Russia has dismissed concerns over how quickly it has tested, approved and deployed Sputnik V, and insists the vaccine is safe, more than 90 per cent effective and cheaper and easier to store and transport than some western rivals.

"Many countries are today approving the use of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, and there is active co-operation with the World Health Organisation, " Russian health minister Mikhail Murashko said on Friday.


The developers of Sputnik V list Serbia, Argentina, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates among countries that have approved the vaccine, but Russia only this week sought registration from the EMA.

The EU says member states can approve a vaccine for emergency use without EMA approval, but must accept full liability for any health problems it may cause.

"This is where the authorisation process and vaccine confidence meet," the European Commission said last November. "If our citizens start questioning the safety of a vaccine – should it not have gone through rigorous scientific assessment to prove its safety and efficacy – it will be much harder to vaccinate a sufficient proportion of the population."

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe