Τhe public row surrounding the Covid vaccine patents is absolutely ridiculous, even for a country so accustomed to the ridiculous. It illustrates the parochialism of those who believe they are scoring political points by arguing about the origin of Joe Biden’s request that the vaccine patents be waived, when the issue involves major global economic forces, pharmaceutical giants, competition at the highest level, issues of research and capitalist motives, with Greece not even in the picture as it has not played any role at any stage. But the debate, which is designed to appeal to a domestic audience, is also disgraceful when the main problem Greece faces right now in the management of the pandemic is the continued hesitancy when it comes to being vaccinated of many parts of the population.
In short, we have – and will continue to have – a sufficient supply of vaccines and we have an enviable vaccination system, but we also have to contend with ignorance, unfounded phobias and a bevy of conspiracy theorists and coronavirus deniers. Some of them, unfortunately, are also quite influential, like a teacher in the Athens suburb of Pangrati who was found to be encouraging students to take legal action against the vaccination drive and other measures aimed at containing the virus.
Some of Greece’s political leaders may be overlooking the fact that their most important job right now is helping manage the pandemic and lessen its impact – not tilting at windmills that are much, much bigger than them or the country. This is regardless of the importance of Biden’s position.
Beyond the pandemic and its economic and social impact, Greece has a plethora of important, if not vital, problems that need to be dealt with. In theory, immediate solutions are required in a diverse array of areas from social security, education, state efficiency and bureaucracy, to the justice system, waste management, the land register, the low birth rate and Greek-Turkish tensions, all issues testing the country and preventing it from moving forward. But immediate solutions are not always possible, even where there’s a will, either because they depend on the whims and attitudes of others – such as in the area of diplomacy – because they are extremely complex by nature or because they require a radical change in the social mentality and culture.
For example, there is no doubt that the low birth rate is a very real threat that could wipe out the nation over the next hundred years, on the heels of celebrations of the bicentennial of its birth. It is a problem that cannot be solved with money and other incentives, as it also has to do with the way of life and mores of modern society. Nevertheless, a long-term “smart” campaign to combat this threat could bear fruit. It is an obligation.
On the other hand, things like social security, education, justice and bureaucratic reform, the land register, waste management and so many other problems cannot stay on the back burner because certain political parties and media and parts of society continue to hold onto dated attitudes that have already proven barren. It is vital that these issues are addressed. It is shocking that the public debate should be restricted to pension cuts when the pension system that costs 18% of GDP and the entire social security system is what it is today. Nor can we tolerate generous breaks for working pensioners even if they are an important voter pool, when there are so many young Greeks who need someone to care, starting with a complete overhaul of secondary education and a commitment to teaching them skills that are essential in the world today.
And of course there will be reactions to any attempt to improve the state machine, reduce red tape, speed up the course of justice, finish the land register and designate new waste management systems. But these are all land mines lying in plain sight that must be cleared out of the way so the country can start moving forward.