Hungary buys Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, first in EU, minister says


FILE PHOTO: A medical specialist holds a vial of Sputnik V vaccine against the coronavirus in a department store in Moscow, Russia, January 18, 2021 REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary has signed a deal to buy 2 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, the first European Union country to do so, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told a briefing during talks in Moscow on Friday.

With its order for Russia's COVID-19 vaccine, Hungary is the first EU member to break ranks and unilaterally approve the shot as frustrations build in Europe over delays in supplies of Western vaccines that are hampering an economic recovery.

"Under the terms of our agreement, we are buying an amount sufficient to inoculate 1 million people," Szijjarto said during talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

"This represents 2 million doses in three tranches. An amount to inoculate 300,000 people in the first month, for half a million people in the second month and 200,000 people in the third."

Szijjarto did not say when the first shipment of the Russian shot would arrive in Hungary and it was unclear how much Budapest would pay for the 2 million vaccines in total.

The agreement comes only days after Hungary's drug regulator gave approval for use of Britain's AstraZeneca and Russia's Sputnik V vaccines against the coronavirus, as Budapest strives to lift coronavirus lockdown measures to boost its economy.

The EU's medicines regulator has yet to approve the Russian or AstraZeneca vaccine. Szijjarto said the Russian vaccines could allow Hungary to lift lockdown restrictions sooner.

Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Hungary cannot lift restrictions until it can carry out a mass inoculation. He said the best approach was to authorise the use of several vaccines as competition would force manufacturers to speed up shipments.

"We don't need explanations, we need vaccines," Orban told state radio.

Right-wing conservative Orban has pursued what he has called good pragmatic relations with Russia ever since he came to power in 2010. Hungary relies mostly on natural gas imported from Russia, and Rosatom is building a nuclear power plant in Hungary.

Szijjarto has said he would also discuss gas shipments from Russia during his talks in Moscow on Friday. Hungary has said before that it was ready to start talks with Russia's Gazprom about a new long-term gas-supply deal.

EUROPEAN APPROVAL STILL PENDING

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to decide on the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and OxfordUniversity on Jan. 29.

Russia on Wednesday filed for registration of the Sputnik vaccine in the EU before an EMA review next month.

Scientists have raised concern about the speed at whichMoscow has launched its vaccine, giving the regulatory go-aheadfor the shot at home and beginning mass vaccinations before fulltrials to test its safety and efficacy had been completed.

Moscow has said Sputnik V is 92% effective at protectingpeople from COVID-19 based on interim results but has not yetreleased the full dataset for the trials.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves; editing by Kevin Liffey, Larry King and Steve Orlofsky)

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