Greece to vaccinate all citizens for swine flu: minister

ATHENS (AFP) – Greece is to vaccinate its entire population against swine flu, Health Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos announced on Friday.

“It was decided under the order of  Prime Minister (Costas Karamanlis) to vaccinate all citizens and residents of the country,” Avramopoulos told a news conference after an inner cabinet meeting.

“Our country will be among the first to obtain the vaccines but they will not be used before official international and European authorisation,” he said.

It was not immediately clear if the measure applies to over a million registered and unregistered migrants, many of them from Albania, Bulgaria and Romania, that make up Greece’s 11-million population.

Greece has recorded over 700 cases of the A(H1N1) strain of the virus, most of them mild. Greek hospitals are currently treating 15 people including four serious cases, one of them a British teenage girl.

The Briton has been identified in media reports as 16-year-old Natasha Newman from Highgate, north London.

A doctor at Penteli Children’s Hospital in north Athens on Friday described her condition as serious.

“She is in serious condition, and this is a virus whose precise behaviour is unknown, anything can happen, „ the doctor told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Avramopoulos said the ministry planned to hire additional medical staff with emergency room experience and allocate an additional 100 intensive care beds.

The government has come under increasing criticism from media and the opposition after a perceived shortage in specialised facilities, and blamed of shoddy preparation after several hospital staff contracted the virus.