Greece Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations at Refugee Camps on Islands

Αssociated Press

A migrant receives the Johnson and Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 by a medical staff of the National Health Organisation (EODY), at Karatepe refugee camp, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Thursday, June 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Panagiotis Balaskas)

ATHENS -- Rapidly stepping up a COVID-19 vaccination program to hit a 70 percent mark of the population needed to slow the pandemic, Greece is extending the scheme to refugees and migrants in camps on the Eastern Aegean islands of Chios, Lebos and Samos.

They will be given the single-shot Johnson & Johnson version from the United States although earlier it was reported that few of them were willing to be inoculated despite the severity of the health crisis.

The vaccines by members of the National Organization for Public Health (EODY) and the Health Ministry’s Philos Program before going to three other islands holding refugees and migrants and then to mainland camps, said Kathimerini.

Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis and EODY President Panagiotis Arkoumaneas were planning to visit the camps  June 4 to oversee the process in person, the plan to vaccinate 11,000 people. 

According to the UNHCR, the United Nations' refugee agency, there are 91,945 recognized refugees in the country, almost all seeking asylum so they won't be sent back to Turkey, where they had gone fleeing war, strife and economic hardship in their homelands, especially Syria and Afghanistan.

Stephan Oberreit, head of Greece’s Doctors Without Borders (MSF) mission, told Al Jazeera: “The vaccination of refugees and asylum seekers residing on the Greek islands against COVID-19 has been long-awaited.

“We have been urging the Greek authorities to include this population in every step of the fight against COVID-19, so the vaccination is a very positive step,” he added.

As for the reluctant, Manos Logothetis, the head of Reception of Asylum Seekers at the migration and asylum ministry, said he believes more will line up once they see others taking the shots, the site reported.

“They have shown interest, while many have acquired immunity because they tested positive for the Coronavirus. Most were asymptomatic,” he said. “As soon as the vaccination starts, as it did in the general population, these trends will increase.”

The New Democracy government is in the midst of a campaign to inoculate all the residents of 85 key islands, including Lesbos, which has been dealing with the refugee and migrant crisis for almost six years.

More than 6,000 people live in the main refugee camp on Lesbos, a tent city thrown together after a fire set by protesters angry over COVID-19 lockdown rules burned down the notorious Moria detention center.

Cases on Lesbos have spiked recently, with 541 infections recorded in May, 227 of which were among camp residents, according to local news, the report added.