European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday (14 January) welcomed the Greek government’s initiative allowing vaccinated people to travel freely, and called for a mutually recognised vaccination certificate across European Union countries.
“It is a medical requirement to have a certificate proving that you have been vaccinated,” Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview with Lusa and other Portuguese media.
“I, therefore, welcome the initiative of the Greek prime minister on a mutually recognised vaccination certificate,” she said.
The president of the European Commission was reacting to a letter sent to her by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier this week, in which he called for easing travel rules for vaccinated people.
Although he did not wish to make the vaccine “compulsory or a pre-requisite for travel”, Mitsotakis asked that “people who have been vaccinated should be able to travel freely”.
Von der Leyen said she largely agrees with the idea. “Whatever is decided – whether it gives priority or access to certain goods – is a political and legal decision that should be discussed at a European level,” she told journalists during a European Commission visit to Lisbon organised by the Portuguese EU presidency.
“But I think it is important. And, as I said, we have to have a medical requirement that proves that people have been vaccinated,” the Commission President said.
Von der Leyen also defended the EU’s joint purchase of vaccines in the face of criticism in countries like France and Germany where complaints have grown about the EU’s sluggishness in rolling out new treatment against the virus.
“It was and is good” for the European Union to coordinate on this, she insisted, saying that by the end of the week, 10 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines “will have been delivered” in all EU member states.
“With these two vaccines, and with access to these two vaccines, we have enough doses to vaccinate 80% of the European population,” she explained.
The Commission is now distributing the vaccines “quickly and massively,” she added, saying this reinforces the need to work “in close collaboration” with EU countries.
“Now we have to work closely with the member states to make sure that vaccination accelerates because that is the best way to fight this pandemic, and to overcome and eradicate the virus,” she said.
Asked about a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical firms to allow emerging countries to vaccinate their population, von der Leyen replied: “We have guaranteed 2.3 billion vaccines, which is more than enough for the European population and [our] neighbours because I think it is very important that we support low and middle-income countries”.
In addition to vaccine donations, von der Leyen also pointed to the EU-backed COVAX initiative, which provides for the purchase of two billion vaccines for low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021.
“We are one of the largest donours, with €800 million donated, so once COVAX has access to vaccines, they can buy those doses,” she said.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]