BUDAPEST— Hungary’s capital, Budapest, is offering free antibody testing to its elderly residents in an effort to increase pressure on the government over concerns that certain vaccines do not provide adequate protection against the coronavirus.
The offer of 20,000 free tests for Budapest residents over 60 came after many fully vaccinated people reported that tests at private laboratories revealed that they had not developed antibodies to defend against COVID-19.
Those reports, according to Budapest Deputy Mayor Ambrus Kiss, came primarily from people who received China’s Sinopharm vaccine, convincing city leaders that there was a “genuine problem.” He suggested that the government consider giving third doses to those who have a poor immune response.
“If there is such a loss of confidence in certain vaccines, then the government needs to order a third dose and free up capacity for giving them,” Kiss told The Associated Press, adding that the tests are available to anyone over the age of 60, regardless of which vaccine they received.
“We believe that the more tests we conduct, the more societal pressure there will be for a third dose,” Kiss said. The testing drive will continue next week, with preliminary results expected to be released next week and full results expected by the end of the month.
Hungary was an early vaccination leader in the European Union, owing largely to its procurement of vaccines from Eastern countries such as Russia and China, in addition to vaccines obtained through the EU.
It was the first of the EU’s 27 members to approve Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, and it is the only one to use China’s Sinopharm. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, more than 5.1 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed in Hungary, with more than 2 million administered.
While government officials insist that there is no reason to provide a third dose of the Sinopharm vaccine, critics of the vaccine, including Budapest’s liberal mayor Gergely Karacsony, have questioned its efficacy.
Karacsony cited the Chinese vaccine as the reason for the city’s antibody testing campaign when announcing it in June. He cited other countries, such as Bahrein and the United Arab Emirates, that have provided booster shots to some Sinopharm recipients due to efficacy concerns.
Sinopharm and Sinovac, another Chinese company that has developed its own vaccine, both stated in April that they were investigating whether a booster shot could help improve protection against COVID-19.
Karacsony frequently clashes with Hungary’s right-wing government and is widely regarded as a front-runner to succeed Prime Minister Viktor Orban in next year’s elections.
Maria Szaniszlo, 78, a Sinopharm jab recipient, said she supports a plan to provide booster shots to anyone who requires them.
“There is news that the Chinese vaccine isn’t reliable because it doesn’t protect many people,” Szaniszlo said after arriving in the capital for an antibody test on Thursday. “I decided that I, too, wanted to know… They sent me the (immunity) card, which stated that I was protected, but I won’t know if I am until tomorrow. ”