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No to Yes: Greeks Make Big Swing Toward COVID-19 Vaccine

ATHENS – Greeks have made a 180-degree turn in favor of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 with a survey showing 75 percent said they will after an overwhelming majority in 2020 said they wouldn't, doubting its safety or efficacy.

With signs showing vaccines can slow the pandemic and are 100 percent effective against becoming seriously ill or perishing, more people are beginning to line up for Greece's slow-moving campaign that's going to speed up.

Health authorities said 70 percent of the country's population of 10.7 million, or 7.49 million people, must receive both of two shots of the vaccines now being offered: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca or a single-shot version by Johnson & Johnson to bring herd immunity.

But only about 8 percent of Greece's population has been inoculated because of a cumbersome European Union distribution scheme and failure of AstraZeneca to deliver on its contract.

That has led the major opposition SYRIZA to criticize Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his New Democracy government for boasting about the vaccines but failing to bring enough of them to work.

The government now plans to reach 5 million vaccinations – it wasn't said if that's one or two shots –  by the end of May, with restaurants opening for outside dining on May 3 and a general opening on May 14 to tourists with proof of being vaccinated or having a negative Coronavirus test.

Mitsotakis told an online meeting of his cabinet that, “The (vaccine roll out campaign dubbed) Eleftheria is being expanded and from Monday (April 26), people aged over 30 enter the fray. We are reaching 3 million vaccinations and, if we follow our plan, at the end of May we could reach 5 million vaccinations.”

“Every next step should be taken cautiously, with safety and constant self tests, social distancing, masks and with personal hygiene, so that the country opens and does not close again,” he stated, said Kathimerini.

But he's not requiring health care workers to get the shot and the government has eased restrictions of an already lenient lockdown so much it's essentially been lifted apart from wearing masks, and no attempt has been made to stop wild parties in public squares.

The poll by Pulse for SKAI TV also showed that 56 percent of people said they will definitely be vaccinated, 19 percent probably, 10 percent likely won't and 12 percent said they will refuse.

The government said if too many people don't allow themselves to be vaccinated that it could become mandatory if it affects the ability to bring immunity and a return to normal life.

Some 56 percent of respondents said they want the vaccine as fast as they can get it as three to four weeks apart are required for PfizerBioNTech and Moderna and 2 ½ months for AstraZeneca (AZ.) Johnson & Johnson (J & J) requires one shot. Some 13 percent said they would wait a few months before being vaccinated.

Fear after rare blood clots were reported from AZ and J & J led many Greeks to avoid either version –  J & J's use suspended – and AZ will be used exclusively for those aged 30-39 opening the coronavirus vaccination campaign to the 30-44 age group.

General Secretary for Primary Healthcare Marios Themistokleous said that 40- to 44-year-olds can apply for a vaccine appointment on the emvolio.gov.gr platform starting on April 29.

The 45-49 age group will be vaccinated with AZ, but also with the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, he said, that platform opening May 1.

Some 48 percent said the vaccination program is working well and 25 percent said they were very satisfied as an online platform brings quick bookings and reminders electronically at hospitals, clinics or mega centers.

But the government banned inter-regional travel for Easter celebrations although there were so many exemptions and people getting past police checkpoints that nearly 12,000 people got away to their villages.

“Most of our compatriots seem to understand the importance of avoiding travel during Easter holidays and everyone has welcomed with maturity and discipline the gradual opening of a number of economic activities,” he said.

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