ATHENS, Greece - Greece on Monday introduced a vaccination mandate for people aged 60 and over, as the country's vaccination rate remains below the EU average and an increase in infections has put sustained pressure on Greek hospitals.
Elderly people who fail to be vaccinated risk fines, starting with a fine of 50 euros (57 USD) in January and followed by a monthly fine of 100 euros (114 USD) thereafter.
About two-thirds of Greece's 10.7 million people are fully vaccinated, while the EU average is just over 70%. But COVID-19 deaths and daily admissions have increased since the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant, although the pressure on the intensive care unit’s capacity has eased slightly.
Health Minister Thanos Plevris said the fines would be levied through the tax office with the money to help fund state hospitals.
"The age factor is important because of its impact on public health," Plevris told Private Open TV on Sunday.
Greece introduced a vaccination mandate for health professionals last year. And from February 1, vaccination certificates for adults expire after seven months, unless the holder receives a booster shot.
New infections rose sharply in early January, but have declined over the past week.
The vaccination mandate for the age group 60 and older was announced at the end of December, and according to government data, 41.5% of the 530,000 people targeted by the measure are now fully vaccinated. Opinion polls suggest strong public support for the mandate, but some lawmakers across party lines have questioned the legality of separating a specific group. The government defended the measure as constitutional, citing a 2020 right-wing decision allowing public day care institutions to reject children who had not been vaccinated for childhood diseases.
Government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said only people with legal health exemptions, those who had suffered a recent infection and applicants for delayed home vaccination appointments would be spared the fine.
"The law will be fully enforced," Oikonomou said.
Greece has the seventh oldest population in the world, measured as a proportion of residents aged 65 and over, according to the US-based Population Reference Bureau. It has seen nearly 22,000 virus-related deaths in the pandemic.