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Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.

“This initiative is aimed at supporting local island communities and their economy and it also aspires to send a positive overall message for our tourism,” Mitsotakis said after a video conference with island mayors and regional governors.

Local residents wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, talk each other at a bus station on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government has announced ahead of the launch of the tourism season. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilized a surge in cases.

On the island of Naxos, a popular family holiday destination, officials welcomed the initiative. Mayor Dimitris Lianos told The Associated Press that the single dose vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson was also being deployed to speed up the program. “By the end of June, all our year-round residents will be vaccinated and that’s very important for us because it creates a sense of safety for the people that live here and for the people who will visit our island,” Lianos said.

Robin Rose Varthalitou, and 69-year-old Naxos resident from Wales said she was relieved the vaccination drive was expanding.

Year round resident Robin Rose Varthalitou, 69, from Wales receives a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination center on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government has announced ahead of the launch of the tourism season. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

“There's been no problem. No worries. It’s fine,” she said of the immunization program so far. "I reckon everybody should do it by law... This (pandemic) is a tragedy everywhere, financially and for people. A tragedy.”

Derek Gatopoulos and Theodora Tongas in Athens contributed.

A woman touches the arm of a man after his vaccination on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government has announced ahead of the launch of the tourism season. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

Local residents wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, wait outside a vaccination center on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government has announced ahead of the launch of the tourism season. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination center on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government has announced ahead of the launch of the tourism season. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

The Mayor of Naxos and Small Cyclades Dimitris Lianos waits to receive a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination center on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government has announced ahead of the launch of the tourism season. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

Local resident Flora Kavoura, 74, receives a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 as her daughter-in-law Maria Karamani, left, attends at a vaccination center on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government has announced ahead of the launch of the tourism season. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)

A Greek Orthodox priest receives a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination center on the Aegean island of Naxos, Greece, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government has announced ahead of the launch of the tourism season. (AP PhotoThanassis Stavrakis)