Concerns Over Efficacy of Chinese COVID Vaccine Leads Budapest to Offer Free Antibody Tests

Budapest is offering free antibody tests to elderly residents as concerns over the efficacy of the Chinese Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine grow.

The Hungarian capital is providing 20,000 free tests to residents over 60 after many fully vaccinated people reported that they underwent tests that showed they had not developed antibodies to fight against COVID-19.

These reports mostly came from people who received the Sinopharm vaccine, Budapest Deputy Mayor Ambrus Kiss said.

He said this is a "genuine problem" that the government should work to solve.

"If there is such a loss of confidence in certain vaccines, then the government needs to order a third dose and free up the capacities for giving them," Kiss told The Associated Press.

Kiss said the antibody test is available to anyone over the age of 60, regardless of what vaccine they received. The testing drive will continue into next week.

"We think the more tests we perform, the more societal pressure there is for a third dose," Kiss added.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Hungary Vaccine
In February, Hungary became the first EU nation to start using China's coronavirus Sinopharm vaccine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said. Now, Budapest is offering free antibody testing for those who are questioning the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine. A nurse prepares a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm company, at a vaccination center of a seniors club in Budapest on February 25, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

Hungary was an early vaccination leader in the European Union, due largely to its procurement of jabs from eastern countries like Russia and China, on top of vaccines received through the EU.

It was the first country in the 27-member bloc to approve Russia's Sputnik V vaccine and is the only one to deploy China's Sinopharm. More than 5.1 million doses of the jab have been distributed to Hungary, of which it has administered more than 2 million, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

While government officials insist there is no reason to offer a third dose of the Sinopharm vaccine, critics of the jab - including Budapest's liberal mayor Gergely Karacsony - have cast doubt over its efficacy.

In announcing the city's antibody testing campaign in June, Karacsony referred specifically to the Chinese vaccine as the reason for the measure. He pointed to other countries like Bahrein and the United Arab Emirates, which have offered booster shots for some Sinopharm recipients amid efficacy concerns.

Both Sinopharm and Sinovac, another Chinese company that has produced its own vaccine, said in April that they were looking at whether a booster shot could help better protect against COVID-19.

Karacsony often spars with Hungary's right-wing government and is considered a front-runner for replacing Prime Minister Viktor Orban in national elections next year.

Sinopharm jab recipient Maria Szaniszlo, 78, said she backed a move to offer booster shots to anyone who needs them.

"There is news that the Chinese vaccine isn't reliable because it doesn't offer protection to many people," said Szaniszlo after showing up on Thursday for an antibody test in the capital. "I decided that I wanted to know too ... They sent me the [immunity] card saying I'm protected, but I'll find out tomorrow if I really am."