ÖGreek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis first spoke about it in early April: Mitsotakis said in a television interview in the spring that he was concerned about how weak the vaccination offer against Covid-19 was being accepted by health care workers. If that has not changed by autumn, he is ready to put mandatory vaccination on the agenda.
It happened earlier now. Similar to Italy and France before, Greece is now also introducing partial compulsory vaccination. On Thursday last week, Parliament approved the relevant changes. Employees in elderly care must therefore be vaccinated from mid-August, those in hospitals from September. This applies, for example, to the medical profession, the nursing staff or the crew of ambulance vehicles. Anyone who refuses will be released without continued payment of wages.
The regulation should initially apply until the end of the year and ultimately “for the duration of the pandemic”, government circles have heard. There are also fines of up to 200,000 euros for employers who fail to enforce the regulations. Their later expansion to other professions, such as teaching staff at schools and universities, cannot be ruled out. In the armed forces, the compulsory vaccination already applies.
A minister’s move to allow the private sector to dismiss employees unwilling to vaccinate did not succeed, but the increase in vaccination pressure is unmistakable. It is also a response to government vaccination incentives not working as hoped. Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias had announced bonuses for vaccination private doctors: 50 euros for each vaccination administered by home visit, 20 euros for vaccinations in practices. Pharmacies were promised a premium of ten euros per mediated vaccination appointment. Children aged 12 and over will soon be able to be vaccinated in Greece, and in June the state issued a so-called “freedom pass” for people between 18 and 25: when vaccinated, there is a voucher of 150 euros for this age group, which can be used for hotel bookings, cinema visits and concert tickets , Ferry tickets and other services can be used domestically.
Of almost 950,000 people for whom this offer is eligible, only about 100,000 had registered for it by mid-July. According to the national vaccination commission, more than ninety percent of the medical profession, but only about 70 percent of the nursing staff, have been protected in the health care system. In Greece too, the supply of vaccines is now exceeding demand. While more than 100,000 doses were inoculated daily in June, the number is currently around 70,000 with a downward trend. Around three million people, almost a third of the adult population of Greece, are unvaccinated and appear to want to remain so.
Since the carrot was not accepted as hoped, the Mitsotaki government is now increasingly using the syringe. For example, several dozen firefighters from a civil protection unit were recently transferred to prison after they had refused to vaccinate. Controls are also tightened. Since the port authorities were apparently too lax, the coast guard was deployed in mid-July to control access to ferries, for which Covid tests or vaccination certificates are mandatory. Shipping Minister Giannis Plakiotakis announced that within just one week, more than 4,500 travelers, locals as well as foreign tourists, had been denied access to the ferry due to missing or incorrect evidence.
Debate about unconstitutionality
On Friday, Mitsotakis joined the debate that had been going on for months as to whether the Greek constitution would even allow the state to introduce compulsory vaccinations. “The state is entitled to demand that all citizens fulfill their duty of social and national solidarity,” said Mitsotakis, citing Article 25 of the Greek Constitution. Although the first paragraph of this refers to the obligation of the state and all its authorities to safeguard and unhindered exercise of human rights, it also states that the abusive exercise of rights is not permitted. In a final fourth paragraph, the state is also granted the right to demand the “social and national solidarity” mentioned by Mitsotakis. According to the government, denying a vaccination amounts to an abuse of civil rights.
The cabinet is now also receiving support from the Orthodox Church, which was not always the case at the beginning of the pandemic. A meeting between Health Minister Kikilias and Greece’s chief epidemiologist Sotiris Tsiodras with the Holy Synod, the Bishops’ Assembly, appears to have been helpful. A few days later, a spokesman for the bishops was quoted as saying that medicine and science were “a gift from God to man”. The spokesman rejected immediate rumors among believers that implanted microchips and vaccinations were the work of the devil. He announced that the Church would distribute a booklet with twelve questions and answers on the subject. In any case, more problematic than the role of the church is that of social media, where “the virus of irrationality is constantly mutating and becoming more contagious”, as the Athens newspaper Kathimerini recently said. A certain concern in Athens is the question of whether there is a threat of shortages in the nursing staff in autumn should there be a significant number of suspensions of those unwilling to vaccinate in Greek hospitals from September onwards.