ATHENS – Health care workers in Greece who don't have at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot by Sept. 1 will be put on unpaid leave for as long as the pandemic lasts, and vacations were canceled to fill shortages over the suspensions.
About 18 percent of workers in health care have so far refused to be vaccinated, some doubting the safety or efficacy of the shots and others believing it's part of an international conspiracy to alter their DNA and control their minds.
The numbers have dropped since the New Democracy government earlier announced the deadline but a hard-core resistance remains and they will take to the streets in protest, a tactic which has almost never worked in Greece.
There are also expectations, said Kathimerini, that public hospitals will start being overwhelmed with rising cases of the Coronavirus that spiked over the unvaccinated and people defying health care measures.
Intensive Care Units (ICUs) are also at 67 percent capacity and rising as the surging Delta Variant from India that makes up almost 90 percent of the cases has overtaken the country, targeting the unvaccinated mostly.
The suspended workers will also lose social security contributions counting toward their pension and ironically are continuing to make the pandemic linger – and they can't return to work as long as it lasts or until getting their shots.
To minimize the risk of contagion in the healthcare system, the ministry introduced an amendment in July according to which unvaccinated workers will remain on unpaid leave during which they will also lose their social security.
The mandatory inoculation concerns medical, paramedical, nursing, administrative and support staff in hospitals, as well as private, public and municipal care facilities for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Workers in nursing homes who refused vaccinations have already begun being suspended and the edict will apply to the rest of the sector without delay, the government reiterated.
According to official figures, as of August 19, there were 19,416 hospital staff and 2,248 primary care workers that were not vaccinated, said Kathimerini, although they are on the front line of battling the virus and see people expire before them.
The Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Employees (POEDIN) submitted a request to the country's highest administrative court, the Council of State, seeking to block mandatory vaccinations and suspensions.
POEDIN argued that the threat of sanctions against workers violated their constitutional rights of human dignity, the free development of the individual’s personality and the right to work although under the Constitution Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has the right to impose them during a health crisis.
BATTLE LINES DRAWN
POEDIN members will go on strike and hold rallies Aug. 26 to protest the suspensions, although it supports vaccinations, the paper said.
“POEDIN has never been negative on the issue of vaccination, as from the first moment we urged our members to get vaccinated,” the federation said in an announcement, stressing that, as a result of this attitude, “ adding that more tha 82 percent of public health workers have been vaccinated.
“Of course everyone should be vaccinated, we do not want to give a message that they should not be vaccinated,” he said.
POEDIN called on its vaccinated members not to show proof they have been inoculated although that could put them at risk of being suspended as well, but the union wants solidarity with the minority who've refused.
POEDIN said the suspensions will strain a public health care system already straining because of the rising cases and Delta, which is rapidly filling beds and ICUs and spreading fast.
The union said that striking workers, many of whom have been vaccinated, are doing so “not out of solidarity” but because they know that they will be called on to fill in the gaps left behind by the suspensions.
It said that 90 percent of health personnel are vaccinated or have natural immunity, without explaining what that meant and why they weren't at risk of being infected.
Union President Michalis Giannakos, told Kathimerini he wants more time federation is asking for is more time to convince other health professionals to get vaccinated although the pandemic began early in 2020.
Deputy Health Minister Vassilis Kontozamanis said in a TV interview that,“After 18 months of fighting this battle, no one can say, ‘I do not know, I was not told, I did not know, There will be no extension, the law will be implemented on September 1.”
In July, a day after Parliament voted on the amendment on compulsory vaccination, Mitsotakis – who for months said he couldn't force health care workers to be vaccinated – referred to Paragraph 4 of Article 25 of the Constitution, according to which “the state has the right to demand that all citizens fulfill the obligation of social and national solidarity.”
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou stressed that the Constitution does not recognize anyone’s right, in the context of his or her own freedom, to endanger the life and health of others.
Greece's Eleftheria (Freedom) vaccination campaign has stalled at 61 percent of the population of 10.7 million receiving two shots of most versions or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson from the United States.
Health officials said at least 70 percent must be vaccinated to slow the pandemic although one member of the government's advisory panel of doctors and scientists said it should be 80-85 percent.