Greece’s slowing vaccination rate has been put under the microscope once more as the US reached President Joe Biden’s goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the population against the coronavirus on Monday.
There are multiple factors experts point to which may explain why vaccination has slowed down in Greece in recent weeks; however, scientists warn that inoculation is now more important than ever as the Delta variant of the coronavirus threatens a fourth wave.
Greece’s slowing vaccination rate
Greece has been experiencing a decline in its vaccination rate over the summer months, and recent statistics show that the rate has dipped even lower over the past week.
On Monday, July 2, only 45,000 vaccinations were performed across the country, a figure that stands in stark contrast with the average of 60,000 to 70,000 shots recorded per day over the past two weeks.
However, the state of vaccinations in Greece is not entirely bleak; more than 5,705,000 citizens have received at least one dose of the vaccine (54.3% of the general population and 63.7% of adults) and at least 5,170,000 are considered fully vaccinated (49% of the general population and 58% of adults).
Although these numbers are not particularly low, it must be noted that the rate of new vaccinations continues to decline across the country and government officials have expressed concern about the dwindling prospect of herd immunity.
In comparison, the USA has fared a great deal better, with 70 percent of Americans having received at least one dose of the vaccine, despite areas of nagging vaccine hesitancy, including much of the South. An average of 660,000 inoculations are now being performed daily across the US, and 165 million people are fully vaccinated.
However, Dr. Paul Offit, a voting member of the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, said in a recent interview that the US (and the rest of the world) needs to reach a higher standard in order to achieve herd immunity.
According to Offit, due to the transmissibility of the novel coronavirus, herd immunity can only be relied upon once countries reach the milestone of 80 percent of the population being fully vaccinated.
Why are Greeks hesitating to get vaccinated?
There are multiple theories on why a large percentage of the Greek populace remains unvaccinated, and no clear answer.
Marios Themistocleous, the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Health, stated on Tuesday that the stagnation of Greece’s vaccination rate is due simply to the season. According to Themistocleous, Greeks are less likely to get vaccinated during the summer, when they are likely to be on vacation and do not want to commit to a vaccine appointment.
However, he did not seem to believe that the vaccination rate will improve after August 15, when most Greeks return to work.
Most other theories are not positing that people are refusing vaccinations due to any practicalities. A recent opinion poll by Skai TV revealed that 40 percent of those polled who had not yet been vaccinated were steadfast in their conviction and were not planning to get the vaccine at all.
An anti-vax movement is picking up speed in Greece and may also play a part in a lack of enthusiasm about vaccines. As has been observed across the planet, some people continue to have doubts about the efficacy and safety of the coronavirus vaccine, and many have announced that they will refuse the vaccine.
In mid July, protestors took to the streets of major cities across Greece to fight against mandatory vaccination following the announcement that Greece would soon implement “immune-only” indoor venues. Demonstrations occurred in Athens, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, and Heraklion.
The government has also attempted a community-based approach to getting people to feel comfortable enough to become inoculated against the coronavirus.
Several Greek Orthodox priests have come out to proclaim their distrust of the vaccine and of the pandemic as a whole, leading to a domino effect in their communities. As priests hold positions of power, particularly in smaller, tightly-knit localities, these opinions can have a devastating effect on vaccination rates in Greece.
Greek news sources have cited the case of one northern Greek village which has a inoculation rate of only 5 percent because the local priest has spoken out against the vaccine.
Nikolaos Souliotis, the mayor of a small town in central Greece called Karpenissi, claims that a community-based effort is needed for vaccination rates to improve. In the peripheral unit in which Karpenissi lies, only around 30 percent of adults have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Souliotis believes the situation can only be improved and vaccination rates increased through community organizing.
“We must intensify our effort and in this fight we call on private doctors, whom the citizens trust the most, to assist,” Souliotis said on how to increase the rate of vaccination in Greece.
“Vaccinated people must also be given incentives to spread the message to the rest of the world,” he added.