Greece halts purchases of H1N1 flu vaccines

ATHENS, Jan 19 (Reuters) - Greece cancelled orders for more than 12 million doses of swine flu vaccine to reduce costs, as it struggles with soaring budget deficits, the country’s health minister said.

Greece is well stocked for its 11-million population after receiving 3.7 million doses, Health Minister Marilisa Xenogiannakopoulou said late on Monday.

The Mediterranean country, which sees about 15 million tourists every year, has attributed nearly 100 deaths to the virus. About 360,000 people have been vaccinated so far, according to government figures.

“At a time of financial hardship and efforts to economise, it is important to save up funds,” Xenogiannakopoulou said.

Cutting health and hospital costs are key in the Greek government’s drive to tidy up public finances after the budget deficit soared to 12.7 percent of GDP last year.

Greece's previous conservative government had earmarked 40 million euros ($57.59 million) to buy 16 million doses of vaccine from Novartis NOVN.VX, Glaxo GSK.L and Sanofi SASY.PA.

Several governments have started cutting orders for the vaccine because the pandemic has not turned out to be as deadly as originally feared and most people need only one dose, not two, to be fully protected [LDE6070ML]. (Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Rupert Winchester)