Greece's government has halted the vaccination of senior state officials following a backlash from health care unions and opposition parties.
In a statement released when the vaccine was rolled out across the country on December 27, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that "state and political leadership" were among the first to receive the jab, alongside healthcare workers, "to send the example that the vaccine is safe and effective."
But the number of people included on the list — 126 — took many by surprise and triggered a backlash from healthcare workers' union and opposition parties.
“Cabinet ministers and their general secretaries have been lining up for a selfie with the vaccine, while doctors, nurses and other front line workers may have to wait their turn until the end of summer to get vaccinated,” Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the left-wing opposition, said Tuesday after getting his own vaccine shot. “That’s not symbolism, it’s favouritism.”
Aristotelia Peloni, a deputy government spokeswoman, said Wednesday that the plan had been cut short with 66 officials vaccinated by midday Wednesday out of a total of 1,128 people who had received the vaccine.
"These (vaccination) selfies were wrong. The symbolism around this issue has been exhausted at the highest level and nothing more was required," she told private Parapolitika radio.
Greece has recorded nearly 4,700 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic and over 135,900 confirmed infections, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The majority of EU member states started their vaccination campaigns on December 27 — six days after the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The roll-out of the vaccine has been coordinated by the European Commission which sent a first shipment of the approximately 10,000 vaccine doses to all 27 member states on December 26. Delivery of the first 200 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine should be completed by September 2021.
A second vaccine developed by Moderna is expected to be approved by the EMA on January 6. The Commission has already purchased 80 million doses for member states with an option to request the quantity to be doubled.