By Marton Dunai
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian scientists and doctors have warned against relying on numbers released by the government that suggested Russian and Chinese COVID-19 shots were more effective than Western ones, the latest twist in the country’s unorthodox vaccine rollout.
Hungary is the only European Union country to authorise and deploy Russian and Chinese jabs before they have been approved by the EU drugs regulator, while Prime Minister Viktor Orban has cultivated strong ties with both Russia and China.
The government on Sunday said more than 5.5 times as many people fell ill with COVID-19 after receiving two Pfizer shots than recipients of Russia’s Sputnik-V vaccine. The data contained no age, health record, or time specifications for the vaccine recipients.
The Hungarian Medical Chamber has written to the government asking for access to the raw data and said the published numbers were “unfit to establish efficacy differences of various vaccines.” The letter dated April 26 was published on Tuesday.
A scientific study comparing the real-world effectiveness of different drugs would include a control group of people who did not receive the treatment to provide a standard for comparison and would account for variations in responses to a drug based on age, sex, underlying health condition and other factors.
The scientists would also present the statistical methods they used to make those comparisons when sharing their findings. No such information was available from the Hungarian government.
Katalin Kariko, the Hungarian-born scientist whose work led to the breakthrough for the world’s first and among the most effective COVID-19 vaccine developed and produced by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, said the government’s data was “completely misleading”.
“Some necessary information… have been unfortunately left off from it,” Kariko wrote in a Facebook post. She is senior vice president of BioNTech.
She said Pfizer was given to high-risk recipients such as people over the age of 80 and healthcare workers while only low-risk groups received Russian or Chinese jabs.
The Hungarian government did not respond to emails and phone calls requesting comment. A BioNTech spokeswoman declined to comment on the data because important information was missing. Pfizer declined to comment.
Another scientist, Tamas Ferenci, a biostatistician at the Obuda University in Budapest, said the numbers were of little use other than propaganda.
According to the government data, 175 people died out of 550,000 people who got the Pfizer shot. That would suggest a more than 300-fold discrepancy with U.S. data, which he described as “borderline incredible”.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recorded 88 deaths out of more than 87 million people who had been fully vaccinated as of April 20. That equates to just over 1 per million.
(Graphic: Reuters’ vaccine tracker, https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access/)
(Additional reporting by John Miller in Zurich, Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt, Polina Ivanova in Moscow and Michael Erman in New York; Editing by Josephine Mason and David Gregorio)