Photos of state leaders and politicians being vaccinated have become something of a genre this year but some images say far more than others. Take the snap (pictured) that Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán posted to social media on Sunday, which showed him receiving a jab of Sinopharm, a coronavirus vaccine made in China.
Although Sinopharm and the Russian-made Sputnik V have not yet been cleared by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), Orbán – long a thorn in the EU’s side – has diverged from most other countries in the bloc by granting both vaccines emergency approval in Hungary. While Orbán has been noisily criticising Brussels’ strategy when it comes to approving and distributing vaccines (and in this he’s not alone), the approval of the Russian and Chinese products means that Hungary has the potential to pull ahead of other EU nations when it comes to vaccinating its citizens.
If only it were that simple. Like many things in Hungary, the topic of vaccines has become highly polarised. The opposition party is advocating that citizens avoid any jab that hasn’t been approved by the EMA, namely those that are made in Russia or China. (It should be noted that although reliable data is still missing on Sinopharm’s efficacy for the elderly, a report in The Lancet medical journal found that Sputnik V appears to be safe and effective against coronavirus.) Critics are also quick to point out that Orbán is not only perpetually antagonistic towards Brussels but that his government has political and economic ties to both Moscow and Beijing. All this mixing of geopolitical and health concerns is unfortunate. While the politics of vaccination distribution seems to be getting uglier by the day, so too is the pandemic for those who haven’t yet received a jab.