Greece rolls out vaccinations to island outposts ahead of summer

ATHENS (Reuters) - Inhabitants of remote Greek islands received the COVID-19 vaccine this week as the government rolled out its inoculation campaign to include tiny villages, some with no more than a couple of dozens inhabitants.

Many of the islands have been shielded by distance and life has continued relatively undisturbed by the pandemic. The vaccinations are aimed at ensuring that continues before the summer months brings in a hoped-for influx of tourists.

“It is important for our island, it is both symbolic and practical,” said Sofia Kouvalaki, as she went in for a shot at a medical centre on Kastellorizo, an island in the eastern Mediterranean whose population drops to around 200 in winter.

“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.”

Greece has so far vaccinated more than 208,000 people and is hoping a global rollout will allow holidaymakers to return in the summer and help save a tourist industry that accounts for about a fifth of its economy.

On Kastellorizo, local doctor Stavros Stavropoulos said around 80% of residents had been given a shot since the vaccination team arrived on the island three days ago, with people of all ages treated equally.

Despite a decade-long financial crisis that badly weakened its public health services, Greece has so far been a relative success story during the pandemic, with case rates and fatalities at a fraction of the levels seen in some of its more prosperous European neighbours.

But authorities are acutely aware that hospitals and intensive care units could not handle surging patient numbers, a concern that holds doubly true for dozens of small islands that at best have small medical centres to treat the sick.

“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,” Nikolaos Tachtzis, a nurse administering the shots on Kastellorizo said.

Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky