By Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Russia will allow Hungarian doctors and medical experts to observe the manufacturing process and laboratory tests for its Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Friday.
The deal represents Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's latest high-profile accord with Moscow after a 12.5 billion euro ($14.9 billion) project to expand the Paks nuclear power plant and the prospect of further gas imports from Russia beyond 2021.
"We are working on getting a safe vaccine to the Hungarian people as soon as possible," Szijjarto said in a joint news conference with Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko, adding that Hungary wanted to obtain a vaccine in December or January.
Szijjarto said next week's visit by Hungarian doctors could accelerate a ruling about use of the vaccine in Hungary.
"We remain in close contact with the Russian government and once clinical trials are done and Hungarian health experts make their ruling, we will be able to talk about specific quantities," Szijjarto said.
Hungary's plans to conduct trials of and possibly produce the Russian vaccine, an unprecedented step for an EU member state, have added to existing frictions with Brussels.
Under EU rules, Sputnik V must be authorised by the European Medicines Agency before it can be marketed in any state of the 27-nation bloc, the EMA has said.
Mass vaccination in Russia, which has the world's fifth-highest number of recorded COVID-19 cases, has yet to begin as Phase III clinical trials continue.
Hungary and Russia have agreed that, after next week's visit by Hungarian doctors, Russia could ship some of the vaccine to Budapest as soon as December.
Hungary has also secured over 12 million doses of vaccines from western pharmaceuticals companies and is also in talks with China and Israel about potential vaccine shipments, the government has said.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Kevin Liffey and David Goodman)