Hungary has become the first country in the European Union to give preliminary approval to the Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff confirmed both the Russian jab and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had been given the green light by the health authorities.
Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto is travelling to Moscow for further talks, where he is expected to discuss a shipment and distribution deal.
Early results from trials of the Sputnik vaccine have shown promising results.
Hungarian health officials are also in Beijing for talks with the Chinese authorities over the approval and immediate delivery of one million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, which is already being used in neighbouring Serbia.
Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned company, announced last month that phase three trials of its jab showed that it was 79% effective – lower than that of Pfizer and Moderna.
But Hungary’s prime minister has said the only way the country can satisfy the demand for vaccination, given the “frustratingly” slow delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, is by buying from Russia and China.
At least 140,000 Hungarians have already been vaccinated. But government efforts to popularise the Russian and Chinese vaccines have already run into opposition.
The scepticism and suspicion among Hungarians is, in the public imagination at least, related to the Communist domination of the country from 1948 to 1989.
The move has also drawn criticism from the European Union, which is wary of yet another example of Mr Orban’s government going its own way and undermining EU solidarity.