Greece will require COVID-19 vaccines for citizens over the age of 60
Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced on Tuesday citizens over the age of 60 will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Those older than 60 have until January 16 to receive at least the first dose, Mitsotakis said in a news conference.
Those who do not get vaccinated will be fined 100 euro ($113.66) every month until they receive the shot. "Its the price to pay for health," the prime minister said, according to Reuters.
About 63% of the country is fully vaccinated and just 520,000 people over the age of 60 are unvaccinated, according to Reuters. Greece is the first country in the EU to target a specific age group with a vaccine mandate.
Many countries and cities have mandated vaccines for certain groups, such as health care workers. In the U.S., the Biden administration said businesses with more than 100 employees must choose whether workers be fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
However, earlier this month, a federal appeals court temporarily halted the Biden administration's vaccine rule. Some city and state vaccine mandates for health care workers and city employees have also been temporarily halted by courts.
Austria is implementing the most strict country-wide vaccine mandate, requiring all Austrians over the age of 18 to be vaccinated by February 1. The country also went into a nationwide lockdown last week as COVID-19 infections soared.
"We have not succeeded in convincing enough people to get vaccinated," Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at a news conference earlier this month, acknowledging the new restrictions were "very painful."
Mitsotakis said during a cabinet meeting that Greece's vaccine mandate is part of an effort to protect fellow citizens from the virus.
"(The decision) tortured me, but I feel a heavy responsibility in standing next to those most vulnerable, even if it might fleetingly displease them," Mitsotakis said. He did not say how the new mandate would be enforced.
Greece's main opposition party, Syriza, said the measure is punitive and financially excessive. "This hasn't happened anywhere," it said, according to Reuters.
In Greece, the average monthly pension is 730 euro, which means a 100-euro fine would be a big chunk of many people's monthly income, according to Reuters. Greece has also banned unvaccinated people from entering indoor spaces like restaurants, gyms and theaters.
The vaccine mandate comes as many European countries experience a spike in COVID-19 cases and the new Omicron variant, which the World Health Organization designated a "variant of concern." While the U.S. has yet to identify a case of the new variant, more and more countries are seeing it.
The Omicron variant has an unusual combination of mutations that scientists say may enable it to spread faster, and scientists are also trying to determine whether the current vaccines are effective against it. Last week, the Biden administration placed travel restrictions on several southern African countries where cases were first spotted.
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