Hungarian capital offers testing amid concerns over vaccine effectiveness
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – The Hungarian capital is offering free antibody tests to its elderly residents in an attempt to pressure the government over concerns that some vaccines will provide adequate protection against the coronavirus.
The offer of 20,000 free tests, available to Budapest residents over the age of 60, came after many fully vaccinated people reported that tests they had undergone in private laboratories indicated that they were not had not developed antibodies to defend against COVID-19.
Budapest deputy mayor Ambrus Kiss said the reports came mainly from people who had received the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, convincing city leaders that there was “a real problem”.
“If there is such a loss of confidence in some vaccines, then the government must order a third dose and release the capacity to give them,” Kiss told The Associated Press, adding that the tests are available to anyone. over 60, regardless of what vaccine they received.
“We believe the more testing we do, the greater the social pressure for a third dose,” Kiss said. Testing will continue next week and the first results will likely be released next week with full results expected by the end of the month.
Hungary was a leader in early vaccination in the European Union, in large part due to its vaccine purchases from Eastern countries like Russia and China, in addition to vaccines received via the EU.
It was the first country in the bloc of 27 to approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and is the only one to deploy the Chinese Sinopharm. More than 5.1 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed in Hungary, of which more than 2 million have been administered, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
While government officials insist there is no reason to offer a third dose of the Sinopharm vaccine, critics of the vaccine – including liberal Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony – have questioned its effectiveness.
Announcing the city’s antibody testing campaign in June, Karacsony specifically referred to the Chinese vaccine as the reason for the measure. He pointed out other countries like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which have offered booster injections for some Sinopharm beneficiaries in the midst of efficiency concerns.
Sinopharm and Sinovac, another Chinese company that has produced its own vaccine, said in April that they were investigating whether a recall could help better protect against COVID-19.
Karacsony often fights with Hungary’s right-wing government and is seen as a favorite to replace Prime Minister Viktor Orban in next year’s national elections.
Sinopharm jab recipient Maria Szaniszlo, 78, said she supports an initiative to provide booster shots to all who need them.
“There is news that the Chinese vaccine is unreliable because it does not offer protection to a lot of people,” Szaniszlo said after showing up for an antibody test in the capital on Thursday. “I decided I wanted to know too… They sent me the (immunity) card saying I’m protected, but I’ll know tomorrow if I really am.”
Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan contributed to this report.
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Justin Spike, The Associated Press