ATHENS – Counting on tourists to bring a rebound for an economy brought down by COVID-19 lockdowns, Greece's New Democracy government said a critical target of vaccinating 70 percent of the population will be met by the end of July.
That's the mark that health officials said is the minimum needed to beat back the pandemic, with signs that an accelerating inoculation campaign is paying off with gradual declines in cases, deaths and people in Intensive Care Units (ICUs).
Greece has so far completed 1.9 million full vaccinations in a country of 10.7 million people but 7.49 million must be inoculated and the government said if that falls short that it would consider making vaccinations mandatory.
The Secretary-General of Primary Healthcare, Marios Themistokleous said it depends on whether enough people get their shots, although many health care workers on the front line of fighting the pandemic have refused.
He told state-run ERT TV that the goal will also hinge “on the availability of vaccines,” clarifying however that “the vaccination program is progressing rapidly,” but providing a caveat to explain why the government might have to revise its predictions.
Greece has relied on a cumbersome European Union distribution program that failed to meet delivery dates and got tangled in a dispute with the United Kingdom's AstraZeneca for not providing doses as contracted, and over fears of blood clots tied to its vaccine.
Themistokleous stressed that “even with these thrombosis cases that have been reported, the benefits still outweigh the risks,” except for those who've fallen ill and a 63-year-old woman on Lesbos who died from a blood clot after being vaccinated.
He recommended that people opt for the same vaccine for both doses while also saying that the decision by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – which cleared the AstraZeneca vaccine for use – over vaccinating children over 12 using the Pfizer-BioNTech was due to be made May 28.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) welcomed the government's decision to go ahead with vaccinating refugees and migrants in detention camps, Greece holding some 50,000 of them on islands and the mainland.
The National Public Health Organization (EODY) will set up specialized teams that will conduct the vaccinations inside the camps, not at vaccination centers.
“Access to health services for all is a human right and ensures public health,” said IOM, although people living in Greece who don't have Social Security numbers said they are finding it next to impossible to get their vaccinations.
Greece has also opened to tourists who are vaccinated, have a negative test or can show proof of having recovered from the Coronavirus and is counting on its own program to show foreign travelers the country is safe to visit.