SOCIETY

Red tape delays Covid-19 shots for foreign residents

Many European pensioners living in Greece unable to log into vaccination platform

red-tape-delays-covid-19-shots-for-foreign-residents

They chose to retire and put down new roots in Greece, drawn by the idea of a simpler way of life. However, a considerable number of European pensioners who live here feel that they have been treated unfairly compared to local residents.

The reason is that only a few of them have so far managed to secure access to a Covid-19 jab, despite the fact that most of them belong to vaccination priority age groups. The problem has caught the attention of the European media, while many individuals have communicated their complaints to their local embassies as well as ministry offices.

Christian Fetis, a 74-year-old man from France who lives on the Aegean island of Tinos, told Kathimerini he is “disappointed.” “We visited our family in France for a few days in December and after we came back to Greece I started to look into how we would get vaccinated on the island, like every other resident,” he said. Having a social security identification number, better known as AMKA, was necessary to book an appointment. “My wife Catherine and I had never been issued an AMKA because we were covered by the European health insurance card and our private health insurance.”

Greek authorities had originally said that individuals would be able to register on the platform using their European health insurance number. “We went to the Tinos Health Center, the pharmacy and the KEP (Citizens’ Service Center) a number of times,” he said. Meanwhile, vaccinations on the island proceeded without problems for the rest of the islanders.

“We’re not complainers, we love Greece, but for most foreigners here, at least, the system isn’t working,” Roger Green, a British writer who lives on the island of Hydra, told the Guardian, which recently published an article on the issue titled “Rectify this wrong.”

“The vaccination process has passed us by,” Green said. “I know people like me who are in their 80s and are afraid to go out at all,” Green told the Guardian.

Meanwhile, the Press and Journal reported how Alison and Drew Frizzell, a Scottish couple who moved to Crete in November, have been unable to obtain an AMKA number that would give them access to the vaccination platform.

The prospect of tourists arriving en masse over the summer is worrying overseas residents. “Three French families who live here on Tinos have left so that they can get the shot back home. They plan to come back after they have built full immunity, that is many days after the second shot after the end of the summer,” said Fetis, who does not underestimate the risk of such a trip for his 72-year-old wife, who belongs to a high-risk group.

“At the moment we are healthy, however it is dangerous to travel switching between so many means of transport (boat, taxi, airplane, train and so on). The Greeks who live in France, even if they are not permanent residents, get vaccinated. Why can’t we?” he said.

The government tried to solve the problem by issuing a provisional AMKA for overseas residents. The measure was passed into law in early April, but many are still waiting to get their number. Officials from the Digital Governance Ministry told the newspaper that it was a very complicated process. Each case is different. Some are overseas pensioners, others are Greeks who work abroad, others have moved to Greece but do not yet have the right to a pension. Only a very small number submit an income tax declaration in Greece, have a tax number (AFM) or own property here.

“Most were invisible, we had to track them down and make up a way of identifying them before they could get vaccinated,” the official said. He said that the problem would be solved in the coming days.

During the making of this report, Fetis was finally able to obtain the much-coveted temporary AMKA. “I was very happy, but when I visited the pharmacy, as the text message (from the authorities) instructed, I realized it was now impossible to book an appointment for the coming weeks on Tinos.”

Fetis, a former flying instructor, had been visiting Tinos for many years before he finally moved here in 2009. He has served as an interpreter at wedding ceremonies on the island. “Of the eight weddings that had been planned for this year, only one will take place – I hope I can be there and help out.”