Public trust in the Chinese and Russian vaccines was far behind injections produced in the West and approved by the EU's medicines agency.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has been inoculated against COVID-19 with the vaccine from the Chinese laboratory Sinopharm after Hungary become the first EU country to approve its use.
"I am vaccinated," said a message published on Sunday on Orbán's official Facebook page, accompanied by photos and a video showing him being injected with a dose of the vaccine by a health worker holding a Sinopharm box.
Hungary began using the Sinopharm vaccine on Wednesday, after having already having given the Russian Sputnik V vaccine emergency authorisation for use without waiting for the green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Orbán, who has openly criticised the EU's process of validating and buying vaccines as being too slow, called on Hungarian citizens to overcome their reservations about the Chinese vaccine, whose merits have been touted by media outlets close to the government.
Hungarian president János Áder was also given the Sinopharm vaccine on Friday.
The first 550,000 doses of the vaccine arrived from China in mid-February. Another 1 million doses are expected in March and April, followed by a further 3.5 million in May, according to details provided by the Hungarian government.
To date, nearly half a million Hungarians have received at least one dose, mainly of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, but the arrival of the Chinese batches should make it possible to quickly ramp up the country's vaccination programme.
In surveys of preferences among the five vaccines currently used in Hungary, Sinopharm ranks last behind three vaccines developed in the West and validated by the EMA - the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca vaccines - as well as Russia's Sputnik V.
With the number of daily new COVID-19 infections rising sharply and partial lockdown restrictions in place since November now extended until March 15, the Hungarian premier insisted the uptake of the vaccine programme was a matter of urgency.
"Without the Chinese and Russian vaccines, we would have big problems," he said on Friday.
Faced with a lack of information on the Sinopharm vaccine, the Hungarian Medical Association (MOK) said at the beginning of February that it was "unable, in all conscience, to recommend the use of this product to its members".
But the country's medical authorities ignored its fears and gave their final approval last week.
The Chinese vaccine, which the developer says is nearly 80 per cent effective, is already in use in Hungary’s non-EU neighbour, Serbia
Sinopharm has not yet released data on the results of the vaccine's Stage 3 trials.
Learn more about