Hungary to ease vaccination rules to prop up jab stats

Portfolio
Hungarians will be able to get their COVID-19 shots without prior registration at vaccination locations, the government has decided on Thursday, as the vaccination rate is stuck around 60%, while new COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations surge. The not exactly lightning fast response time of the cabinet to worsening epidemiological statistics begs the question: When will the vaccines be available without registration? Excellent question! And the answer is: IN TWO AND A HALF WEEKS!
oltás vakcina koronavírus covid-19

With less than 60% of the population fully vaccinated against coronavirus; with the vaccination rate slower than a dying snail; with the number of new COVID-19 cases up 650%, hospitalisations up 437% and the number of coronavirus patients on ventilator up by 280% from just four weeks ago the cabinet has realised that betting solely on vaccines might not be the most brilliant idea if it wants to stem the spread of the virus. Not that it had no international examples to learn from. Anyway...

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A week ago it tentatively re-introduced a single restriction measure, mandatory mask-wearing in public transport, and - as a new measure that shifted responsibility to someone other than the government - it gave businesses the choice to make vaccination compulsory for their employees. Bravo. As if vaccinations had an immediate impact on the epidemic curve. The government will also require employees at state institutions to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

On Thursday, authorities reported nearly 6,300 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number since 10 April, while there are almost 3,400 people with SARS-CoV-2 in hospital, with 350 of them on ventilator.

The following table and graph show how dramatic the acceleration of the pandemic has been. For comparison, we used data also for the same period of 2020. The base day is 3 November that was compared to 2 November (d/d change) and the to days one, two, three and for weeks earlier. As you can see, apart from a few exceptions, all key figures in this 'wave' have been deteriorating much more sharply than a year ago.

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Even if we make a week-on-week comparison, this 'wave' is clearly worse than the one a year ago.

Between November 22 and 28

  • Hungarians will no longer need to go online and sign up for a COVID-19 shot;
  • they will just need to turn up a vaccination location with their ID and social security cards;
  • they will take care of administration on sight; and
  • they can pick a vaccine (Russia's Sputnik V is no longer available. On the menu they have vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Sinopharm).

First, second and third doses can all be requested. Not at the same time, of course.

This is not the first time the government organises a vaccination campaign without the need of prior registration for a limited period.

We would really love to know

  1. why does online registration remain required outside these ad hoc and very brief rush vaccination periods;
  2. why cannot this campaign start sooner (it's launched 18 days from now!), and
  3. what does the government hopes to gain with this one-week campaign?

Vaccines are not panacea, they do not put a stop to an accelerating spread of the virus overnight. It takes time for immunity to build. Partial immunity will be gained 10-14 days after the first shot, but that is way not enough. The second dose is absolutely necessary, and you'll have to wait another 10-14 for it to reach full effect.

"If we want to push the peak of the fourth wave significantly lower, we need other tools, as well. These include a wider-scale use of face masks and other targeted measures proportionate to the risks," said Gergely Röst, Head of the COVID-19 Epidemiological Analysis and Modelling Response Team, in an exclusive interview with Portfolio.

It must be disappointing for many that we are in such a situation 18 months after the coronavirus outbreak, but the sooner we will face this, the better our chances will be to avoid even more severe consequences.

As shown above and in Portfolio's daily reports, coronavirus has been spreading at a dramatic rate in Hungary. And it's not just that. There is a sharp rise in hospitalisations and apparently those that are admitted are in a worse condition than they were a year ago when there were no vaccines.

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And then there's the question of the mounting load on hospitals. The system was unable to fully recover from the previous 'waves' of the pandemic. Doctors and nurses and health care staff in general are exhausted, quite a few of them left their profession, while hospitals are currently being trasnformed into Covid centres.

Looking at the current trend, how many people infected with coronavirus will be in hospitals and on ventilator 18 days from now? A lot.

Will there be enough staff to deal with those queuing up for their shots, while they will also have to deal with administration?

Finance Minister Mihály Varga has warned today that

COVID-relatedrestrictions may be introducedand there could be an economic outage due to the fourth wave of the pandemic, but this may be smaller than in previous waves.

Caution is advised regarding economic forecasts, which is why the Finance Ministry cut its 2021 GDP growth forecast from between 7 and 7,5% to under 7%, currently projecting 6.8% annual growth, Varga said. Aside from high energy prices, inflation may also slow growth, and the effect of the coronavirus pandemic will also be felt, he added.

Cover photo: MTI/Tibor Rosta

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