Greece’s main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras has given his backing to the much maligned AstraZeneca vaccine, questioning why its COVID-19 vaccine was being rolled out without drama in the UK but not in the European Union and implying that political and business interests were at play.
“It cannot be that an entire population in the UK was vaccinated with AstraZeneca and everything is fine, and it’s suspicious only in the EU,” the leftist Syriza leader told ANT1 TV channel in an interview.
“Unfortunately, a negative climate was created for this vaccine. I will be outspoken: there are conflicts of interest and companies,” he added.
Tsipras, a former prime minister, said all vaccines come with a small risk of side effects and that citizens need to understand that the chances of developing side effects are slim compared to the chances of getting infected with COVID-19 and suffering the effects of the virus.
“I am not a scientist, but I listen to scientists saying that if thrombosis is detected in time, it can be addressed, while the coronavirus is difficult to treat,” he said.
Tsipras criticised the EU’s approach to mass vaccination saying that “the EU was led to a fiasco through its insistence on the plans of an industry alone”.
EURACTIV understands that Tsipras was referring to US pharma giant Pfizer and German BioNTech, with whom the EU has signed its biggest vaccine contracts.
The latest EU contract with both companies foresees the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of the vaccine over the 2021-2023 period.
Stop targeting young people
More than 60,000 Greeks aged 30 to 39 booked an online vaccination appointment within a few hours of the booking platform becoming available for them.
Their appointments are planned to begin this week, with the Greek government expecting vaccination rates to increase rapidly by the end of the week. The people in this age group will all receive the AstraZeneca jab.
Referring to young people’s wishes to get vaccinated promptly, Tsipras called on journalists and politicians to stop targeting young people, a reference to recent criticism of gatherings of Greek youngsters in public squares.
Meanwhile, Dora Bakoyanni, one of the most influential Greek lawmakers from the ruling centre-right New Democracy party lashed out against European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, who also belongs to New Democracy, over the AstraZeneca case.
“All these gentlemen sitting in Brussels should better be held account, at last. They did not succeed and they cannot come today and create insecurity to people,” Bakoyanni concluded.
Schinas recently told Greek TV that Europe will be focusing on vaccines using mRNA technology. So far, the only vaccines using this technology are Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
“These statements are very unfortunate, and I use a very polite expression; this statement, implied that he does not like AstraZeneca,” Bakoyanni said on Wednesday.
“The reality is that he does not like the company, because it did not keep its promises in deliveries… not for the quality of the vaccine,” she said.
Bakoyanni added: “If [Schinas] has different elements, unlike the World Health Organisation, he should speak. This insecurity cannot go on”.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]