ATHENS – Greece is pinning is hopes on beating back the COVID-19 pandemic on a ramping-up vaccination program that is far behind schedule but is still seen as coming close to building immunity by the summer's end.
That's likely too late to attract travelers still nervous about traveling, especially with the United States advising Americans not to come and the United Kingdom, except for five islands, barring travel to Greece.
Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said 60-70 percent of the population of 10.7 million people will be fully vaccinated – most versions require two shots weeks or months apart, although health authorities set the standard at 70 percent.
That's 10 times more than currently, at least 7.49 million people needing to be vaccinated to push back the pandemic, which could have been reached earlier ifd the European Union hadn't failed to deliver enough doses on time.
Speaking on Antenna TV, he cautioned – again – that it depends on getting more shots, which the EU has failed to be able to do, Greece for the most part locked into the distribution syste instead of going it alone.
New Democracy government estimates are that by the end of May that 33 percent of people will have had at least one of two shots of versions requiring both – not fully inoculated – and only 18 percent getting both.
The single shot Johnson & Johnson version from the United States is now in use after being held back to probe rare blood clots but only some 300,000 doses will be available, reports said.
The program called Eleftheria (Freedom) has been stepped up and is now delivering more than 100,000 shots a day at 1,500 centers around the country, including mega-centers that can handle hordes.
All adults over the age of 30 can schedule an appointment to be vaccinated although there remains a small hard-core of people who refuse to get shots, thinking it's not safe or effective or a conspiracy to inject them with DNA to control their minds.
As of May 6, four months after the start of the vaccination program, 3,309,788 vaccinations had been administered, with 1,037,129 people having been vaccinated with a second for full protection.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said Greece had received 4,653,520 vaccine doses – 2,959,320 Pfizer-BioNTech; 332,800 Moderna: 30,000 Johnson & Johnson and 1,221,400 from AstraZeneca.
Ιn May, 2,150,000 doses are expected from Pfizer, 350,000 from Moderna, 220,000 from Johnson & Johnson (with confirmation expected for an additional 80,000) and 450,000 from AstraZeneca, of which 150,000 have been confirmed, said Kathimerini.
The President of the Athens and Piraeus hospital doctors’ association (EINAP), Matina Pagoni, stressed the importance of the vaccination drive by revealing that most intubated patients are unvaccinated. “Vaccinated people do not reach an ICU,” she said during an interview with MEGA TV.
Pagoni said the situation with the capital’s ICU has been stabilized but that the number of intubated patients has not dropped at the desired rate and they are not expected to,given that so many people haven't been or won't be vaccinated.
She said that some 35 percent of the people on ventilators will perish because they are so critically ill, many of them elderly or with multiple or underlying conditions.
That has prompted Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to urge the elderly to get the shots but he said he won't force health care workers to do so even though they are on the front line of fighting the pandemic.
If not enough people are vaccinated to reign in the pandemic or threaten bringing another lockdown that could crush the economy he said only then would he make it mandatory.
Pagoni was optimistic that by the end of September herd immunity could reach 80 percent, far higher than Kikilias' estimate but all depending on a vaccination schedule outside Greece's control as of now.