Greek health care workers protest against mandatory vaccines

ATHENS, Greece, 26 Aug (AP) — Workers at public hospitals in Greece held a five-hour work stoppage Thursday to protest a government decision making vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for all health care workers in the public and private sector.

About 300 hospital workers rallied outside the health ministry in Athens to protest the measure, which goes into effect on Sept. 1. The government has made clear that no extension will be granted.

Those working in the public and private health care sector and those working in care homes who haven’t received at least one dose of the vaccine by that date, or who don’t have a certificate of recent recovery, will be suspended from work.

The public hospital workers’ union said that while it supports the vaccines, it opposes making them mandatory.

“We will not leave defenseless the health care and social care workers who have a personal right to vaccination,” the union said. “Patients are not at risk of catching the coronavirus from health care workers. Hospitals are filling up again with patients suffering from the coronavirus which they caught in the community.”

Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said those who were protesting against the measure were “small minorities” who frequently protest about an assortment of issues related to the national health system.

“They are in the opposite direction of the majority of Greek society, which wants to protect public health,” he said.

Speaking on Skai TV, Kikilias announced the start of a pilot program to have mobile vaccination units administering shots in town squares outside churches. The program would start this Sunday on the island of Crete, the minister said, and would expand to the country’s main cities.

Greece has been seeking to boost its vaccination drive with a series of incentives. It has been seeing a steady increase in confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, as well as hospitalizations and intubations, over the past several weeks. ICU beds for COVID-19 patients are more than 69% full, while regular COVID-19 wards are 45% full, health ministry figures show.

On Tuesday, Kikilias said that “significantly more than 90% of patients who are in COVID ICUs are unvaccinated,” without specifying whether some of them had received one vaccine dose and weren’t yet fully vaccinated.

More than 11 million vaccine doses have been administered, with 5.6 million people now fully vaccinated in this country of about 11 million people.

COVID-19 vaccines are freely available in Greece to anyone over the age of 12. Vaccination is not mandatory except for those in the health care sector, but on Tuesday the government announced new testing requirements and restrictions on access to various venues for people who are unvaccinated.

The measures, which will be in effect from Sept. 13 until March 31, include mandatory weekly or twice-weekly testing for unvaccinated public and private sector workers, and indoor access to venues such as restaurants, bars, cafes and entertainment venues allowed only for those with a certificate of vaccination or recent recovery.