ATHENS – As Greece touts its accelerating COVID-19 vaccination program dubbed Eleftheria (Freedom) most foreign residents are finding it next to impossible to register for a shot despite many being in vulnerable elderly groups.
Especially concerned are European pensioners who moved to Greece for a simpler and cheaper way of life and now feel outside a system they said has isolated them even as the New Democracy government said its wants to inoculate at least 70 percent of the population of 10.7 million – or 7.49 million people – to slow the pandemic.
They said they're being treated unfairly because Greece requires a social security (AMKA) number to register for vaccination platforms and even the government scheme to issue temporary numbers applies to only permanent residents and those riding out the health crisis in Greece, said the British newspaper The Guardian.
Christian Fetis, a 74-year-old man from France who lives on the Aegean island of Tinos, told Kathimerini he is “disappointed” that foreign residents are being left out of the vaccination campaign.
“We visited our family in France for a few days in December and after we came back to Greece I started to look into how we would get vaccinated on the island, like every other resident,” he said.
“My wife Catherine and I had never been issued an AMKA because we were covered by the European health insurance card and our private health insurance,” he said, as holders of EU health cards are supposed to be covered anywhere in the bloc.
Roger Green, a British writer who has lived on the island of Hydra since the early 1990's told the Greek paper that some foreign residents there are still in an involuntary lockdown out of fear and won't leave their homes.
“The vaccination process has passed us by,” he said. “I know people like me who are in their 80s and are afraid to go out at all. We’re not complainers, we love Greece but for most foreigners here, at least, the system isn’t working,” he said.
Before he was able to to finally get his temporary AMKA, Fetis was near beside himself with the worry he wouldn't. “I was very happy, but when I visited the pharmacy, as the text message (from the authorities) instructed, I realized it was now impossible to book an appointment for the coming weeks on Tinos,” he said.
Greek authorities had said people could register using their EU health card but it didn't turn out that way with no explanation from the government if it wants to hit 100 percent rates on key islands.
“We went to the Tinos Health Center, the pharmacy and the KEP (Citizens’ Service Center) a number of times,” he said. Meanwhile, vaccinations on the island proceeded without problems for the rest of the islanders, the paper said.
“Almost no AMKA numbers granted in the 2021 calendar year actually work on the vaccine website,” Rebecca Lieb, who moved to Greece from New York under the golden visa scheme offering residence in return for real estate investments to non-EU nationals told The Guardian.
The Press and Journal reported how Alison and Drew Frizzell, a Scottish couple who moved to Crete in November 2020 – during the pandemic – haven't been able to get an AMKA number either.
“Three French families who live here on Tinos have left so that they can get the shot back home. They plan to come back after they have built full immunity, that is many days after the second shot after the end of the summer,” said Fetis.
“At the moment we are healthy, however it is dangerous to travel switching between so many means of transport. The Greeks who live in France, even if they are not permanent residents, get vaccinated. Why can’t we?” he asked.
Officials from the Digital Governance Ministry told the newspaper that it was a very complicated process at the same time the government it has brought digitalization making government services easy.
Some are overseas pensioners, others are Greeks who work abroad, others have moved to Greece but do not yet have the right to a pension. Only a very small number submit an income tax declaration in Greece, have a tax number (AFM) or own property here, the paper said.
“Most were invisible, we had to track them down and make up a way of identifying them before they could get vaccinated,” an official not named told the paper, adding he expected that the problem would be soon solved.