Greek PM defends centralized EU vaccine purchasing

FILE PHOTO: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis speaks during a joint news conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at Maximos Mansion in Athens

Thu, 4 February 2021, 7:22 am

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis defended a decision to coordinate EU member states’ vaccine purchases through the European Commission, saying the bloc’s smaller countries would have faced serious problems negotiating deals on their own.

The Commission has come under fierce criticism for its handling of the vaccination strategy and, for a damaging row with British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca over a supply contract.

However Mitsotakis said the principle of centralized vaccine purchasing was the right one.

“I can tell you, as a small country, I don’t want to be negotiating on my own with big pharma,” he told Reuters. “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.”

As the pandemic broke out across Europe last year, there was widespread acrimony as EU member states vied with each other to obtain surgical masks and other scarce protective gear as well as vital equipment like ventilators.

Mitsotakis said he doubted Greece would have been able to obtain the number of shots it has done without centralized purchasing and distribution according to population size, and the same probably applied to smaller EU countries from Portugal to Estonia and even to larger states like Italy.

“We can argue about the delivery, and whether it was handled well but we cannot argue with the main decision,” he said.

Mitsotakis said he was quite satisfied with the overall response to the pandemic in Greece, which has suffered proportionately fewer cases and deaths than many other EU countries despite a recent surge and a health system badly weakened by a decade-long debt crisis.

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.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by John Stonestreet)