Gulyas: National vaccination drive extended by another week
The government has decided to extend the national vaccination drive now under way by a further week, Gergely Gulyas, the prime minister's chief of staff, told a regular government press conference on Thursday. The government, he said, is mulling making the validity of immunity certificates conditional on the inclusion of a booster jab.
Gulyas welcomed Hungary’s increasing vaccination rate, saying the country was in first place in the European Union in terms of the proportion of booster jabs administered, with 2.6 million Hungarians having received their third shot.
Everyone who provided an email address when receiving their first shot will be contacted by email and invited to get a booster, he said, adding that the government trusted that people who wanted the first two shots would also want a third.
Referring to press criticism of Hungary’s vaccine purchases, Gulyas said the government had not changed its vaccination policy. “The government estimated vaccine need correctly but it will make further purchases so shots are available for age groups that could not be vaccinated before,” he said.
Gulyas said Hungary had all vaccine types available except for the Russian Sputnik V, adding that there was “an abundance” of vaccines on the international market and possible further purchases would not be difficult to make.
Meanwhile, he said the scheme to cap public utility fees would be rolled out to small companies and municipalities. This, he added, was “one of the most important tools” the government had to fight inflation.
Gulyas said global energy prices were now “unrestrained”, and he warned that the price of electricity, which had “perhaps grown highest on the world market”, must not be applied to retail price calculations.
He reiterated that scheme would also apply to Hungarian small businesses with up to an annual 4 billion forints (EUR 11m) net turnover or balance sheet total that employed fewer than ten people. Local governments will also get the same access because “there appears to be significant demand for this among local councils”, he said.
Gulyas also said it was important that the operations of local governments should go undisturbed and the situation resulting from the pandemic and the global market should pose the least extra burden on them.
He said the National Bank of Hungary was making every effort to fight inflation, and the government was contributing to the fight by maintaining and expanding reduced public utility fees and fuel prices. It is hoped that Hungarian inflation figures will fall by the end of next year and “we can return to the ordinary path”, he added.
Asked about vaccine mandates, Gulyas said decisions on making Covid jabs mandatory had to remain a national competency. Hungary has introduced strict vaccine mandates in workplaces where workers interact with many people, the health-care sector, public administration and schools, he noted. Employers can also mandate their employees to get vaccinated, he added.
More than 100,000 people got jabbed each day last week during the national vaccination campaign, Gulyas said. And though only half as many people are getting a shot this week, the daily vaccination rate is still significantly higher than in the weeks before the campaign, he added.
Because many people got their second dose over six months ago, a booster shot would be timely for them, since they are now less protected against the virus, Gulyas said. Whether there will be another wave of the pandemic and how severe it will be depends on the number of people who get the booster jab, he said.
Hungary has more than 2.8 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine in stock in addition to 778,000 doses of Moderna, 3.1 million doses of the Janssen jab, and more than 2 million doses of Sinopharm, he said. Also there are more than 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca which will soon reach their expiration date, so the government will donate them to other countries, he added.
Guylas said current epidemic rules differed from previous ones since now everyone had a free choice on whether to get vaccinated or not, and the government did not plan to introduce restrictions like those in Austria and Slovakia. The consensus is that the fourth wave of the epidemic was now peaking and the descent would start at around Christmas, he added.
Regarding compulsory vaccinations, he said 92 percent of teachers in public schools have been jabbed, and the Dec. 15 deadline for a first shot still applied.
Gulyas said that those who got the Sputnik jab would have to wait for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the vaccine in order to travel freely within Europe, and Hungarian diplomacy was doing everything possible to get the EU to change its standpoint on the Russian vaccine.
He also broached the subject of a possible fourth shot, saying enough supplies would be at hand should the medical establishment advise getting one.
Regarding the change in how ventilator data is reported, he said the new data reflected the distinction between intubation, which qualifies as a life-saving intervention, and other forms of assisted respiration. He added there was no reason not to disclose data on non-invasive ventilated patients.
He said the operative board responsible for handling the pandemic could soon decide on changes to the validity of Covid immunity cards. However, the government will not have to issue new cards even if they were to be made invalid six months after the receipt of the second vaccine dose, as they contain information on the number of jabs the card-holder has received, he said.
Meanwhile, Gulyas said he preferred not to comment on information provided by the mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karacsony, that Fudan University had abandoned its plan to build a campus in Budapest, adding that the government’s position on the Fudan project was clear. The question of when the land would be transferred was, for example, “a technical question”, he added.