ATHENS – Defending a slow roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccination program that has fallen far short of its goal – but saying it’s on schedule – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said there was no choice but to let the European Union centralize the purchases of the doses.
The New Democracy leader said the bloc as a whole had more clout than Greece would have had on its own although EU leaders are upset that there’s been a lag in the delivery of vaccines, especially from the United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca.
Mitsotakis said the principle of centralized vaccine purchasing was the right option, the news agency Reuters reported.
"I can tell you, as a small country, I don't want to be negotiating on my own with big pharma," he said. "I'm happy that Europe negotiated as a whole. Yes, there were complications, yes there were issues but let's not lose sight of the big picture,” he added.
He said it was unlikely Greece would have been able to deal better and get the shots needed after late in 2020 he said millions were coming only to discover this year they weren’t. Only some 290,000 people have been vaccinated so far.
"We can argue about the delivery, and whether it was handled well but we cannot argue with the main decision," he also said.
Overall, EU countries have so far given first doses to about 3% of their populations, compared with 9% for the United States and 14% for Britain, according to Our World in Data.
Mitsotakis also raised the need to start now the discussion on the vaccination certificate, without this being the necessary condition for travel, speaking at the online "Europe 2021" conference.
"Let me clarify it again: everyone will be allowed to travel; it will just make travelling easier for those who have been vaccinated. I agree that now is not the time to take a decision, but now is the right time for the debate to begin."
"Now we have to look to the future and ensure that there will be no new delays in the next deliveries of the vaccine doses," the Greek prime minister noted.
"The pharmaceutical companies should honour their contracts they have signed with the European Union. The vaccines that are coming are important," Mitsotakis said and added: "For example we should have sufficient doses of the vaccine by Johnson & Johnson. It is important because it is a single dose, it can be stored easily and the vaccination can probably be made in pharmacies. "We must be ready to speed up the vaccination process."
Referring to Greek-Turkish issues, the Prime Minister noted that "Greece seeks to resolve its only dispute with Turkey, namely the definition of maritime zones between them."
However, he added: "I want to see consistency on the part of Turkey. In general, the European Council has moved in the right direction, I do not hide the fact that sometimes I would like more support. The threat of sanctions against Turkey must be credible, otherwise it will not work. The European Union must be strengthened geopolitically."