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Greece Reboots Stalled COVID-19 Vaccinations, Church Squares Used

ATHENS – Still not moving to make vaccinations mandatory to slow the re-surging COVID-19 pandemic, Greece's New Democracy government is instead trying to persuade and push doubters to get the shots and will use church squares to deliver them. 

Warnings that a fourth wave is coming, driven by the Delta Variant from India that has become strain among rising cases, hospitalizations, people in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and deaths, has the government scrambling to contain it.

Mobile vaccination teams and private doctors are being enlisted to increase inoculation rates, with teams also place in public squares to complement centers  around the country, said Kathimerini.

Anti-vaxxers and people defying health measures, as well as wild parties on islands and people gathering without masks has brought a rebound of the Coronavirus just as health care workers refusing shots will be suspended, leaving hospitals and medical units shortstaffed.

Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said the program to use church squares will be implemented with the cooperation of priests and the Holy Synod, which reluctantly came around to supporting health measures and with the religious among the chief anti-vaxxers.

The church square campaign will begin from Athens and Thessaloniki on Aug. 29 and gradualy expand to other cities, Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said in a interview with SKAI television.

Asked about the refusal of some healthcare professionals to get vaccinated, he said it is a small minority of unionists who are reacting to the mandatory inoculation in the sector. 

On SKAI Radio, the General Secretary of Primary Healthcare, Marios Themistokleous, said some 1,000 private doctors will start administering vaccinations, said and that they can make appointments and get the vaccines from the state.

THIRD SHOTS COMING TOO

While vaccines require two shots weeks or months apart, except for the single-shot Johnson & Johnson version from the United States, a third booster shot will be given in the autumn to the most vulnerable, including transplant patients.

The main criterion for booster shots will be how much time has passed since the second vaccination and the recipient’s age as Themistokleous said 30,000 first-dose shots are now being booked daily.

The Eleftheria (Freedom) vaccination program has hit the wall at 61 percent of of the country's population of 10.7 being fully protected but health authorities said at least 70 percent is needed to slow the pandemic, and maybe 80-85 percent.

Out of 115,000 health workers, more than 21,000 have refused to get the shots despite being on the front line of fighting the crisis and tending to critically-ill patients and seeing others perish before their eyes.

Those who won't be inoculated will be suspended starting Sept. 1, without pay, adding to those working in nursing homes who refused the shots. The leave will last as long as the pandemic, the government said.

The health care workers union POEDIN urged its members who are vaccinated not to report that to authorities even though it could lead to them being suspended, but its push to stop mandatory shots is losing ground, the paper said.

A protest in downtown Athens led by the union brought a low turnout as the prospect of being suspended without pay has cut into the ranks of the refuseniks and with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis saying he will make shots a requirement for all in autumn if the pandemic keeps rising.

There were another 3,538 cases on Aug. 27 – some 10 times higher than earlier in the summer before Delta took over and anti-vaxxers kept spreading the virus, including on islands where tourism workers don't have to be inoculated.

Health authorities said 336 were receiving treatment in ICU's and that another 28 died because of complications caused by the Coronavirus, which initially targeted the elderly and those with underlying or multiple conditions, especially breathing problems, but now is going after the unvaccinated and the young.

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