Hungary silently rejoins the EU's joint vaccine pool

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By Sandor Zsiros
A Hungarian nurse prepares a Chinese made Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in Budapest, Hungary, on Wednesday Feb. 24, 2021.
A Hungarian nurse prepares a Chinese made Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in Budapest, Hungary, on Wednesday Feb. 24, 2021.   -  Copyright  Laszlo Balogh/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Hungary has opted back into the EU's third vaccine purchase agreement with Pfizer/BioNTech, the European Commission has told Euronews.

The move comes as a surprise, after the Hungarian government signalled last May that it did not want any more vaccines from the EU's joint procurement scheme.

The news follows the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) approval this week of the Pfizer jab for children aged 5 to 11 — so far, the only one approved for youngsters in this age group.

On Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in his weekly morning radio interview that the vaccination of children could start as soon as December 20 – when the first shipment of shots for 5–11-year-olds will arrive in Hungary.

Brussels has warned that opting out of its vaccine programme will mean not receiving Pfizer shots, which would have left Hungary without any approved doses for 5-11 year-olds anytime soon.

Pfizer was ‘not needed’ in May

The Hungarian government was previously one of only two EU countries to purchase non-Western vaccines – China’s Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V.

Budapest’s announced earlier this year that it would completely withdraw from further EU vaccine purchases, saying it had enough stockpiles and that Pfizer's prices it said were “excessive”.

The EU’s last and third round of vaccine procurement took place at a similar time in May, with Hungary being the only EU member left out.

Brussels then agreed with Pfizer that member states would receive 1.8 billion doses by 2023.

Part of this was a specific vaccine vial developed for children, but the package also includes modified shots for adults to fight different variants. The Hungarian government must have been aware of this in May, when they said no to joint procurement.

Hungary finally opts in

Euronews contacted the European Commission's spokesperson for health, food safety and transport, Stefan De Keersmaecker, who said: "I confirm that Hungary has entered into the third EU vaccine supply contract with Pfizer/BioNTech. For further details, I suggest contacting the Hungarian authorities.”

According to EU sources, Hungary asked to rejoin the vaccine procurement scheme in September. The request was approved by the other Member States, who have to give the green light to such decisions at the European Council.

Hungary will now finally be able to receive Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines. Although it’s not clear what the quantity of the new order is.

When asked for comment, the Hungarian press department for the Ministry of Human Resources referred Euronews to the weekly radio address of Prime Minister Orbán.