ATHENS – Persuasion campaigns have failed to convince Greece’s anti-vaxxers to get inoculated against COVID-19 but record numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have sent them scurrying to take the shots.
In the last week up to Nov. 8 there was a 185 percent increase in people making appointments to get their first of two shots of most versions, apart from the single shot Johnson & Johnson version from the United States.
There was also a 200 percent surge in people wanting a third booster shot after there had been some reluctance and with rabid anti-vaxxers who don’t believe the vaccines are safe or effective or are part of an international conspiracy to control their minds or alter their DNA holding back the fight against the pandemic.
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Only 61.2 percent of the country’s population of 10.7 million people has been fully protected, far below the 70 percent that health officials said is needed to work to slow the Coronavirus’ continuing crush.
At a regular briefing, Marios Themistocleous, Secretary-General for Primary Health Care, said the number of appointments had risen from 60,000 two weeks ago to 175,000, reported the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (AMNA.)
Some 460,000 citizens have been administered a booster shot, he said although the New Democracy government is still struggling to convince the most rabid of anti-vaxxers and hasn’t moved to make shots mandatory.
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“It’s a very important increase,” he said. “What has changed is the introduction of the new measures and the high number of infections … But this must continue, and the pace of appointments must increase,” Themistocleous said.
Health measures requiring the unvaccinated to show proof of negative COVID tests, at their own cost of 10 euros ($11.58) each time, to enter most public gathering areas such as restaurants and retail stores apparently has driven some skeptics to get the shots too.
Under the measures that came into effect Saturday, unvaccinated people in Greece can only enter banks, government departments and most shops if they show a recent negative COVID-19 test. The same applies to outdoor restaurant and café areas, while only vaccinated people are allowed indoors at such establishments.
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Unrestricted access is still allowed for supermarkets, shops selling food and pharmacies. Unvaccinated people must also present two negative tests weekly to access their workplaces.
Even the powerful Orthodox Church of Greece, until now lukewarm on pandemic restrictions, last week strongly urged worshippers to only enter churches if they are vaccinated, have recovered from the coronavirus or can show a recent negative test.
The country has so far recorded nearly 800,000 infections and more than 16,300 deaths.