Although Hungary, as opposed to many other countries including the United States, has ample supplies of the H1N1 vaccine, only about 10% of the population has been inoculated to date. I wrote about the hysteria over the flu vaccination on October 10, 2009. Unfortunately, although the hysteria has subsided somewhat, it's far from over.
In the last couple of weeks the political battle between the government and the opposition has focused on the ownership of Omninvest Kft., the company that has been the sole supplier of flu vaccines in Hungary for a number of years. While that battle rages on, sixteen people have lost their lives due to a H1N1 viral infection. None of them had been vaccinated. Among the recent victims was a young pregnant woman and her unborn baby whom the doctors couldn't save.
Here is what I managed to find out about the company. Omninvest Vaccine Manufacturing, Researching and Trading Ltd. was founded in 1991. Their "mission is to share [their] expertise and innovations to successfully fight different influenza-related illnesses." Although the company was established in 1991, they claim "four decades of experience."
Omninvest Kft. has also moved into stem cell therapy. In May 2003 Omninvest together with the University of Debrecen founded the Cell Therapy Laboratory of the Medical and Health Science Center at the University of Debrecen. Their "mission is to incorporate state-of-the art stem cell therapies into national clinical practices." The company claims that it finished clinical trials enabling them to use stem cell therapies following infarction and severe peripheral arterial disorder. A Scientific Board consisting of six M.D's who are also armed with Ph.D's supervises the activities of the Cell Therapy Laboratory. Three of them are members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. All that seems perfectly legitimate, but who is "behind" Omninvest remains a mystery.
Ervin Demeter, former minister in charge of national security in the second half of the Orbán government, has been badgering the government for details on the people behind Omninvest. As if the ownership of a company had much to do with the quality of the product. Demeter decided to investigate on his own and announced that it took him only two telephone calls and one and a half hours of work to find out that behind Omninvest is a company called A.J.K. Group registered in Cyprus, whose directors are Marios Vardas and Andreas Karapatakis. Demeter's research wasn't very thorough and left him a big foggy; in fact, he wasn't quite sure whether these names were real or fictitious. His research could have been facilitated by a quick look at the company's website. Assuming that it is not a fabrication (and there's no reason to think it is), we learn there that Karapatakis is the chairman and one of the five members of the partnership board "responsible for all strategic issues of the Group." All five partners were born in Cyprus. Three were educated in the United States, one in the U.K., and one in Hungary.
Demeter, having found only two of five current partners, came out with his big gun: there was a third, unnamed man who was most likely a Hungarian. He was an employee of the III/III section of the secret service that was responsible for information gathering within Hungary during the Kádár regime. Mind you, Demeter admitted that this unnamed man died three years ago. I should point out that the partnership board is not exactly made up of geriatrics. The chairman was born in 1964, the vice chairman (Yiannakis Papatheodorou, who got his B.Sc. in finance in Hungary and seems to be quite alive) in 1963, and the other three members in 1972, 1973, and 1980.
Demeter's story is all too pat: how handy that a III/III agent is behind Omninvest, a company that is being accused of all sorts of unsavory if not illegal activities. Demeter is trying to make a national security question out of Omninvest's ownership. Theoretically, I guess, one could make the case that relying on only one manufacturer of flu vaccines poses a certain risk to the population, but Omninvest has been producing vaccines year after year to everybody's satisfaction. It is clear that the whole affair has been created for political purposes.
The political battle could be dismissed as insignificant if it didn't have an adverse effect on Hungarians' willingness to be vaccinated. (I found a good cover of HVG, a weekly known for its witty covers, that portrays the situation well.) And unfortunately the virus seems to be a very potent one. The first victims were older people either had compromised immune systems or who suffered some other serious illnesses. However, lately perfectly healthy young people have died of the H1N1 influenza within a couple of days. The young pregnant woman was already in great trouble when she was taken to the hospital belonging to the Semmelweis Medical School of Budapest. First, the virus attacked her lungs and later her kidney and heart. The young man who died only a few hours later in Zalaegerszeg first developed pneumonia and later the virus attacked his kidney. There is another young pregnant woman who is also in very bad shape. And yet Endre Czeizel today told József Orosz on Kontra (Klub Rádió) that among his pregnant patients who visited him in the last few days there were still several whose family doctor or obstetrician had told them not to get vaccinated because the vaccine poses dangers to them and to their fetuses. According to Czeizel there is absolutely no danger, and the vaccination of the mother has the added benefit of protecting the newborn against the H1N1 virus for his/her first six months of life.
Let's hope that sanity will return. In the meantime I'm looking forward to the details of the mysterious III/III agent behind Omninvest and the vaccines. It should be quite a tale!