In Greece, taxis help with race to deliver booster shots

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Georgia Bisti-Bavella, 97, smiles as she receives a booster Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19, in Athens, Greece, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. Public health authorities in Greece have stepped up a campaign to deliver booster shots to seniors and people with mobility difficulties at home – with one agency outside Athens hiring taxis to take healthcare workers to where the vaccinations are needed. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Long before the pandemic and mobile apps, Greeks took pride in their delivery culture, the ease with which hot meals, repaired items, coffees and cold beers could appear in minutes by motorbike or carried on a hanging tray.

This Christmas season, a life-saving service has been added to the list.

Booster shots are being delivered by taxi as the country races to shore up its defenses before the widely expected impact of the omicron variant.

Health services are distributing the shots also using municipal vans or with doctors simply sent out on foot to reach older people, and people with disabilities like Athens resident Eleni Louka.

The 74-year-old, recovering from a lumbar fracture, got her booster Wednesday after health care workers arrived in a commissioned cab.

“I would get it at the (vaccination center) but I have terrible pains and I can’t even sit in the car,” Louka told The Associated Press from her home in the capital’s northern Halandri district. “I just do what the doctors tell me: I get my shots and I take my meds.”

Although only two-thirds of the population in Greece is fully vaccinated, booster-shot uptake has seen a surge in recent weeks with nearly 30% of the population now having received their third vaccine dose.

The country is fighting a sharp increase in COVID 19-related deaths — with more than 4,000 deaths since Nov. 1 out of a total 20,000 — that has put pressure on the public health service.

Starting in mid-January, country residents over age 60 will face a 100-euro ($112) monthly fine if they fail to get vaccinated or get their booster shot in time.

People with disabilities can qualify for an exemption but doctor and health visitor Evgenia Papadima, who administered the shot to Louka on Wednesday, says they may be among the most vulnerable to illness.

“With omicron coming, we’ve got to get people vaccinated and for people who have to remain at home, we’ve got a solution for them,” she said. “We’ve reached about 100 people with our (local) booster program, so we’re very pleased.

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