BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister on Friday urged Hungarians to register for their COVID-19 jabs, following a sharp drop in what was until recently one of the strongest vaccination drives in the 27-nation European Union.
Amid the slowdown, Viktor Orban’s government said Thursday that in coming days it would lend or donate more than 140,000 vaccine doses from its unused stockpile to other countries.
In a radio interview, Orban noted that 3 million adults in the country of fewer than 10 million have not yet received a jab.
“I’m afraid an image will develop that you can get away with (avoiding the vaccine). The fact is that this is a virus that will not go away … Sooner or later, it will find everyone,” Orban warned Friday.
The government says 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine will be donated to Cape Verde, a small island nation around 400 miles off west Africa. Another 41,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be lent to the Czech Republic.
Hungary has provided at least a first dose to 52.3% of its full population, the second-highest rate in the EU. The country quickly became a European leader in administering jabs due to its pursuit of vaccines from Russia and China — in addition to procurements through the EU.
But it may be approaching a ceiling for vaccine uptake as nearly all those who have registered have been inoculated, resulting in more available doses than people willing to receive them.
While the average number of daily administered first doses was above 75,000 in mid-April, it dipped below 30,000 this week — with barely over 3,000 given on Tuesday, according to government figures.
The Central European country has received 154 doses per 100 inhabitants, the highest in the EU according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). That far surpasses the next in line, Cyprus, with 81 per 100 inhabitants.
Nearly 3 million doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine that have already been delivered remain unused, ECDC figures show.
Last week, Hungary was the only of the EU’s 27 nations to opt out of a third vaccine contract with Pfizer and BioNTech through 2023 for an additional 1.8 billion vaccine doses. A government minister said Hungary has enough vaccines already in stock or under order to inoculate its population through the end of next year, and that a Hungarian vaccine factory would be up and running by late 2022.
The government plans to spend roughly 46 million euros ($56 million) on a communications campaign against vaccine hesitancy. Incentives to get inoculated include the rollout of immunity certificates that allow access to indoor dining rooms, sporting events, hotels and other recreational venues for those that have received a jab.