Mandatory vaccination for those over 60 and a decision to extend the e-prescription system to include antiretroviral medication were the two topics on which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis focused in Parliament on Wednesday, during the debate on a health ministry bill that also included the two measures.
On the occasion of World AIDS Day, in particular, he noted that this was a measure that will improve medical care for those who are HIV-positive, while he also announced plans to establish free self-diagnostic tests to help restrict the spread of AIDS.
He also referred to a decision allowing HIV-positive individuals to adopt and foster children if they are taking the approved course of treatment and thus eliminating discrimination against them, saying this was an "outstanding issue that comes from the past."
The prime minister then went on to report a significant increase in the appointments booked by those over 60 for a Covid vaccine, saying that these reached 20,000 in the 24 hours since he announced plans to make vaccination mandatory for that age group.
He noted that the decision was not so much mandatory as "essential" since it averted the danger that this group posed to those around them:
"It is a timely and targeted choice that is also characterised by justice, proportionality and determination," the prime minister added while stressing that it was a decision that had "troubled him...as a deeply liberal politician that finds any sense of mandatoriness hard to stomach". Despite this, he added, and given the heavyweight of responsibility for the common good, he preferred to temporarily seem strict but ultimately be proved right as regards health.
Citing figures, the prime minister said that nine in 10 Greeks dying of Covid were over 60 and more than eight in 10 had not been vaccinated. In remaining unvaccinated, he added, they were effectively "laying siege" to the healthcare system. With the ramifications of the Omicron variant still uncertain, he said, it was imperative for as many people to get vaccinated as possible in order to boost protection.
"In the last month, our older fellow citizens appeared relatively reluctant to get vaccinated. Of the 580,000 that are unvaccinated, only 70,000 booked an appointment for a first dose, which was the smallest percentage out of all other age groups," he said.
He defended the 100-euro fine as the only means to make the measure truly mandatory and also a small compensation to assist Greece's beleaguered hospitals, while it was simple to avoid by getting a vaccination.
Mitsotakis also revealed that he has asked experts to examine and approve a decrease in the interval between the second and third dose, possibly even to four months, while stressing that the government had done everything in its power to persuade people to get vaccinated voluntarily.
He also emphasised that the mandatory vaccination was fully compatible with the Constitution and had the approval of the Council of State.
The government's aim was to keep the economy and society running and avoid a lockdown while protecting public health, Mitsotakis said, and for this reason, its measures had to be targeted. "Currently, ICUs are not filling up with military personnel and police officers but elderly people and this is where we are focusing our efforts," he added.