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Greece’s Health Workers’ Choice: COVID Vaccination or Suspension

ATHENS – Suspensions without pay for unvaccinated health care workers in Greece will begin Sept. 1 and won't be delayed, the New Democracy government vowed, in a race to slow the spreading COVID-19 pandemic.

“The law will be applied in full. The salary paid in advance at the end of August will also be returned,” government spokesman Yiannis Oikonomou said, adding that those suspended won't return without being inoculated or until the health crisis is over – if it ever is.

He said that there are no guarantees that suspended health workers, “even when they choose to get vaccinated, will return to the same positions, given that the character, needs and organization of the national health system will to a degree have changed,” said Kathimerini.

The workers union POEDIN went to the state's highest administrative court, the Council of State, in a bid to delay the suspensions and try to convince a minority of its workers to be vaccinated.

Those refusing said they don't think the vaccines are safe or effective or are part of an international conspiracy by shadowy forces, including pharmaceutical companies and governments, to alter their DNA and control their minds.

The anti-vaxxers, along with those defying remaining health measures and not wearing masks or staying safe social distances have brought a rebound of the Coronavirus that was being beaten back early in the summer.

The especially contagious Delta Variant from India has been a deadly catalyst, adding to the numbers – almost all unvaccinated – in hospitals, Intensive Care Units (ICUs) in public hospitals or among the growing dead.

“The epidemiological burden in our country remains at high levels and the next period will be extremely crucial in the evolution of the pandemic,” he said.

Greece needs to hit a vaccination rate of at least 70 percent of the population or maybe 80-85 percent – to slow the pandemic but the campaign had stalled and with the return of summer vacations has crawled up to near 64 percent.

Minister of State Akis Skertsos earlier said the government won't back down from the anti-vaxxers because “It is a matter of protecting the healthcare workers themselves and the health of the patients.”

The clock for the unvaccinated to get their first of two required shots – there is a single shot Johnson & Johnson version from the United States – ends on Aug. 31 and he urged the refuseniks to grab the last chance.

He said they should “so that there are no problems with their work or with the operation of the national health system,” the paper said.

Anticipating the suspension of around 10 percent of hospital and health care staff as the pandemic is rising, the government will open an online application platform recruiting replacements on short-term contracts.

Worried that the pandemic will spill over into the autumn, and with mandatory shots for all not required so far, the government offered two free self-tests for returning vacationers, with schools due to open Sept. 13, and students, teachers and staff also facing requirements for vaccinations or two paid molecular tests weekly.

Mobile vaccination teams from the Health Ministry will be parked on public squares and outside churches which are joining the failing effort to persuade anti-vaxxers to come around after more than 7,000 of the protested outside Parliament and clashed with riot police there.

“Data from the National Public Health Organization show that the pandemic at this stage mainly threatens our unvaccinated fellow citizens,” said Oikonomou, noting that public health trumps the arguments of those refusing.

Since mid-August, when the first group of vacationers began to return, vaccination appointments have risen, exceeding even 40,000 per day but the government said at least one million more must be inoculated soon.

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