OPINION

Planning, not sparkle, will get us to herd immunity

planning-not-sparkle-will-get-us-to-herd-immunity

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis recently estimated that some 2 million people will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of March and expressed satisfaction with the current rate of 8,000 to 9,000 jabs a day. He also said that Greece is doing a lot better in terms of vaccination that wealthier European countries and that four big vaccination centers will be ready within the next couple of months with the ability to inoculate 20,000 people a day.

In a similar spirit, government spokesman Christos Tarantilis said that vaccinations would pick up in the next few months when a greater supply becomes available, while also estimating that Greece will achieve herd immunity in the summer.

What a great thing it would be if everything goes just as Mitsotakis and his associates say. It appears unlikely.

For starters, the Greek state machine is not renowned for its speed and efficiency, even at the best of times. Then there’s the fact that a large part of the population – including some doctors and nurses – are still skeptical about the vaccine. It is this hesitancy – which will only grow as the weather gets warmer and new cases recede – that the government should be seeking to eliminate with a strong public awareness campaign and constant briefings from the experts.

The only way for the truly challenging task of getting 7 million Greek immunized by the summer is for the vaccination campaign to become the government’s top priority, supervised closely by the prime minister himself. Apart from a public awareness campaign, it should also include the mobilization of all relevant public and private services, volunteer pharmacists, retired doctors and nurses etc and even the military.

The fact is that to achieve 2 million vaccination by end-March, an average of 26,600 jabs will need to be given daily over the next 75 days – that is three times the current rate. And for Greece to achieve herd immunity by the end of June, more than 100,000 jabs will need to be administered a day in April, May and June, given that most of the vaccines are in two doses.

It is worth noting that the UK, which has one of the biggest and best national health systems in the world, an extremely well-organized public sector and extensive experience in state mobilization, has vaccinated 3 million people (around 80,000 jabs a day) since December 8. It also hopes to deliver 2 million jabs a week at 2,700 centers, with a team of 200,000 volunteers and 80,000 doctors once the program is in full swing.

Israel has already immunized 20% of its population by treating it like a military campaign and delivering jabs seven days a week, well into the night. In contrast, France, Italy and Germany have barely inoculated 0.5% of their populations and the United States is still under 2%.

This enormous effort toward reducing fatalities and returning to normal as quickly as possible could also use some help from the opposition instead of constant criticism. The opposition should also refrain from making proposals that are nothing but hot air, like that made by SYRIZA’s Alexis Tsipras during a recent meeting with the Greek president: He talked about patents and getting the vaccinations produced domestically, only to be corrected several hours later by the president of the Greek Union of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, who explained that even if we were given the patents today, it would take at least eight months to produce one batch of one vaccine.