Greece rolls out vaccination programme on islands in hope of summer tourist season

Nick Squires
·3 min read
An elderly Greek woman receives the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine - Shutterstock
An elderly Greek woman receives the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine - Shutterstock

The inhabitants of Greece’s islands have begun receiving coronavirus vaccines as the country looks ahead to what it hopes will be a busy summer tourist season.

Islanders, particularly the elderly, are anxious to get vaccinated so that they are protected from infection when holidaymakers arrive from around the world.

The Greek government has embarked on a plan to send vaccines to islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas, many of them far-flung and hard to reach.

“The inoculation of the population on the islands is in progress. It’s a complex scheme due to the distinctive geography of the island regions,” said Vassilis Kontozamanis, the health services minister.

Kastellorizo is one of the islands where vaccinations have been administered - LOUISA GOULIAMAKI /AFP
Kastellorizo is one of the islands where vaccinations have been administered - LOUISA GOULIAMAKI /AFP

From Rhodes and Chios to Santorini and Mykonos, doctors and nurses have been administering the vaccine to islanders of all ages.

"It is important for our island, it is both symbolic and practical," Sofia Kouvalaki told Reuters, as she had a jab at a medical centre on Kastellorizo, a tiny island in the eastern Mediterranean, about a mile off the coast of Turkey.

"We did not have cases, so this has to continue so that people here feel safe and so those who will come will be safe."

Stavros Stavropoulos, a doctor on the island, said around 80% of residents had been given a shot since the vaccination team arrived three days ago.

For small islands that have limited health facilities, inoculating people is vital as the country looks ahead to the summer season.

Kastellorizo lies just a mile off the coast of Turkey - LOUISA GOULIAMAKI /AFP
Kastellorizo lies just a mile off the coast of Turkey - LOUISA GOULIAMAKI /AFP

Nikolaos Tachtzis, a nurse who administered some of the shots, said: “It's really important, especially for the small islands that don't have large hospitals for people to be treated, they have to be (vaccinated) so that they are protected when people come here for tourism.”

Greece, which has a population of 10 million, has so far vaccinated more than 208,000 people.

Still bruised from a decade of austerity and recession, Greece is hoping that tourists will be able to flock to its islands this summer.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the prime minister, backs the idea of an EU-wide vaccination certificate or passport to allow those who have had a jab travel more freely.

“Ensuring the quickest possible re-establishment of freedom of movement … is, of necessity, a fundamental priority for us all,” he said earlier this month.

Thousands of hotels, bars and restaurants in Greece are suffering economically.

Aegean Airlines, the country’s main carrier, sustained a net loss of over €187 million during the first nine months of 2020 as a result of the drastic contraction in visitor numbers.

The impact of the pandemic on Greece has been much lower than in other European countries such as Italy and Spain. Greece has registered 155,000 infections and a death toll of 5,700.