ATHENS – Far behind schedule in the vaccination race to reach herd immunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece is going to use private clinics to speed the process.
Only about 7 percent of the country’s population of 10.7 million people has received full inoculations – two shots of vaccines – but health officials said 70 percent, or 10 times more is needed to be effective.
Greece has relied on a cumbersome European Union process to get vaccines that has disintegrated into a battle between the bloc and the United Kingdom’s pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca which has failed to meet a contract for delivering doses.
The New Democracy government sent to Parliament a measure that will give private clinics 3 euros ($3.62) for every vaccine given and that has seen at least 130 private clinics wanting to jump into the fight.
Readying to open to tourists on May 14 who have been vaccinated or have a negative Coronavirus test, the plan also includes seven day operation of state-run centers in two shifts from 7 a.m. until midnight. Workers there will receive an extra 20 euros ($24.12) for working weekend and holiday shifts, said Kathimerini, to meet a goal to administer 2.5 million vaccinations in May and 4 million in June.
Government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni said that vaccinations will continue even through most of Holy Week but not on on Easter and while Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged people to get their shots he won't make health workers do so.
He said that, “A large percentage of the elderly have been vaccinated, but there is a percentage, estimated at around 30 percent who have not yet come to be vaccinated, although the platform is open.”
He added: “Those who refuse or are afraid of vaccines, let them go for a walk to an intensive care unit to experience the unfolding drama and understand that vaccines can prevent this. “The only way to end the pandemic is to get vaccinated.”
He said that if too many people won't comply that vaccinations could become mandatory after the summer for workers in certain sectors and he would raise it with rival party leaders.
“I think a conversation on mandatory vaccination of some employees – especially those working in healthcare – must be had. This year or next year we may have to have a second shot. Then, we will have to hold this conversation,” he said.
He didn't explain why he won't require health care workers in hospitals and clinics to be inoculated as they are the front line of the battle against the pandemic, many of them still reluctant to do so despite the carnage they see.
Marios Themistokleous, Secretary-General in charge of vaccinations, said inoculation of islands with fewer than 1,000 residents will be completed imminently in a trial to create pockets of immunity.
“We will continue to the other islands, so that within the next month we will have covered the majority of our islands’ inhabitants,” he said, those being key destinations for tourists, with Americans going to be allowed.