Hungary to start administering Sinopharm vaccine on Wednesday

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Workers unload a shipment of Chinese company Sinopharm's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine as it arrives at Budapest Airport, Hungary, February 16, 2021. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (KKM)/Handout via REUTERS

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BUDAPEST, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Hungary will on Wednesday become the first European Union country to start inoculating people with Chinese company Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine.

The government said on its coronavirus information page on Facebook that Sinopharm shots would be administered for the first time as part of its vaccination campaign, which began in December using the Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N), (22UAy.DE) vaccine.

Hungary has also purchased doses of Russia's Sputnik which along with the Sinopharm vaccine has not been granted regulatory approval in the EU.

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The right-wing government, which has been critical of the slowness of the EU's vaccination programme, said in January it had reached a deal buy 5 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine and the first 550,000 doses arrived in Budapest last week.

New COVID-19 infections have started rising rapidly in Hungary in a third wave of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is eager to reopen the economy, wants to accelerate the inoculation programme after delays in Western drugmakers' deliveries of the vaccines approved by the EU.

Hungary's programme also includes the vaccines developed by U.S. company Moderna (MRNA.O) and Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca (AZN.L). The latter is used in Hungary to inoculate people aged between 18 and 59 who are suffering from chronic diseases.

"In the next few days we can make a huge step forward in inoculations thanks to the Chinese vaccine," Istvan Gyorgy, head of the government's vaccination workgroup told reporters.

"This means that within a week, the number of those who have received a vaccine could grow to over 800,000."

Hoping to boost public trust in the Chinese vaccine, government officials have pointed out that neighbouring Serbia, which has a large ethnic Hungarian minority, has been using the Sinopharm shots for weeks.

As of Tuesday, Hungary had reported 407,274 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 14,450 deaths.

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Reporting by Krisztina Than and Anita Komuves, Editing by Timothy Heritage

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