ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ reluctant order that those over 60 must be vaccinated against COVID-19 or face 100 euro ($113) monthly penalties isn’t sitting well with those who oppose it.
That sector of society is among the most vulnerable to the Coronavirus that is killing up to 100 people a day and filling public hospital Intensive Care Units (ICUs,) mostly with the elderly and unvaccinated.
Mitsotakis said he felt a moral obligation to make them be vaccinated because so many are being infected, hospitalized and dying but many of the elderly still don’t want to take the shots.
In a feature, Germany’s state broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) reported on the scheme that will start as of Jan. 16, 2022 at the same time the New Democracy government is still trying to persuade the vaccinated to get booster shots.
In a cabinet meeting, he told his ministers and staff that there were some 580,000 Greek citizens aged over 60 who were not yet vaccinated, the same age group as those in ICU’s and making up 90 percent of deaths.
Mitsotakis said that it had been a tough but justified decision: “I felt a duty to stand by the most vulnerable, even if it might temporarily displease them,” hoping the order will send them to be vaccinated.
Only 62 percent of the country’s population of 10.7 million people has been fuly vaccinated, less than the 70 percent that health officials said is needed to slow the pandemic that has resurged to record numbers.
“It will soon become apparent whether the threat works and results in an increase in vaccine appointments. Regardless of that, initial reactions on social media were negative,” said DW.
Some users said that older people were being punished, noting that shots aren’t compulsory for professions with greater social contact such as police, the army or priests who haven’t been forced to be vaccinated.
On Facebook, Xenophon Contiades, President of the Center for European Constitutional Law in Athens, said he believed that restrictions and sanctions to convince people to get the shot are justified.
“The imposition of fines on people who do not want to get the vaccine is unconstitutional, because it is an excessive and inappropriate restriction of an individual’s autonomy – regardless of how angry we are because of their attitude,” he said, and even though they are spreading the virus.
That was said before Greece’s highest administrative court, The Council of State, ruled that mandatory shots are constitutional although said whether to have ruled on the financial penalties.
He said it was age discrimination and that many of those affected can’t afford the penalty that will be deduced from pensions, which average 730 euros ($825.33) a month, although it wasn’t said if salaries of workers would be garnished.
Elias Mossialos, Professor of Health Policy at the London School of Economics, said on Greek TV he preferred a combination of restrictive measures and positive incentives: “Now we have arrived at a dead end,” he said.
With the appearance of the Omicron Variant on Crete, further threatening to see the pandemic worsen, Mitsotakis said he was left with no choice without explaining why the unvaccinated are still allowed to go into public gathering spots such as supermarkets, pharmacies and churches also.
Major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, who was ousted as premier by Mitsotakis in July 7, 2019 snap elections, accused Mitsotakis and his government of a “lack of planning and strategy” and called his rival a “vaccination saboteur.”
He said that compulsory vaccination for people over 60 would lead to a “wave of resistance instead of the desired result, which is a better vaccination rate,” saying people should be paid to get the shot, although those who had were not.
On Twitter, a well-known young journalist, Natasha Iamali posted a damning attack on the decision: “The fact that we are more concerned with a 100 euro fine than with the 100 daily deaths is an admission of lack of empathy.”