The Vaccination Miracle
Updated: Jul 24, 2022
You may recall from an earlier blog post, I made a new friend at an all-vegan patisserie—Little Bear—in Piraeus, named Kate (AKA Catherine). She owns the vegan sweets and savory shop, and has been a vegan chef for over ten years. She started working out of her home and making sweets, jams and savory pies for people. She's worked with cancer patients and the medical professionals which tended to them, and a secretary for a cytologist as well.
She's about my age, striking red hair, loves cats, anime, dragons, fantastical and ethereal things, learning, travel, works too much (every day of the week), is humble, kind, generous, compassionate and quite the artist.
I'm happy for the stars which aligned to bring us together in accordance with Divine Providence. We hit it off from the start!
After my morning trot and exploration of the neighborhoods is fulfilled along with my quest to pet a couple street cats, I made it a habit to stop by her shop every other day or so--especially Mondays and Wednesdays, and we'd chat for hours in between customers while James was sleeping, He tends to be more nocturnal, and I, more diurnal.
I enjoy having mornings free from work obligations due to the time zone difference of Greece being 7 hours ahead of Michigan, where the bulk of my patient-base resides.
I feel my best energy is in the mornings, and being able to spend that sacred time doing things I truly love is sufficient reason for gratitude.
James always gets excited when I bring home treats from Kate, and she always loads me up with plenty (and many free samples) to constitute 2-3 full multi-course meals a day.
A couple days ago, out of the blue, Kate texted me she'd made some new veggie soup and if I had time, I ought to swing by her shop to pick some up--her treat. I did so, and she gave me enough soup for three people, and even threw in her last lemon in the shop.
She added some traditional Greek vegan cookies, vegan brownies, vegan doughnuts, chickpea and veggie and spinach pies too! I wouldn't be surprised if I gain 20 lbs during our couple months' time here.
Kate’s been teaching me more Greek, acclimating me to the culture and we’ve simply been genuinely enjoying spending time together.
After spending inordinate amounts of time in proximity to Kate, some of her faerie dust hijacked my brain. I’ve been having these fantasies of maintaining my work as a psychotherapist, but also pursuing sugar art / alchemy and cat photography.
Esoteric, I know...
So, what in the world does any of this have to do with procuring a vaccination in an EU country?
The answer is: EVERYTHING.
WITHOUT RELATIONSHIP CAPITAL, IT'S DARN NEAR IMPOSSIBLE TO ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING IN GREECE. RAPPORT IS WORTH MORE THAN TWO OLYMPIC-SIZED SWIMMING POOLS OF GOLD.
It was with Kate's inimitable help James and I were able to procure these booster shot appointments in Marousi, and Greek and EU QR vaccination codes. I mentioned having some trouble with the language barrier and a bit of frustration with the Greek system, when Kate mentioned attempting to schedule her own appointment. I needed say no more to my kindhearted Greek friend before she sprung into action, and marched me across the street to speak to her pharmacist friend, Katerina, who assured me the deed would be done. She would see to it!
Amidst a snowstorm, and attempting to procure shots for herself as well as her mother, this young woman, of her own volition, and out of the kindness in her heart offered me help. Her offer was regarded as all-the-more precious, as James and I tried for the past month on our own to get the ball rolling, but to no avail. The embassy informed us the United States' government does not plan to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to private U.S. citizens overseas, Only to permanent residents (which we are not).
Upon further research, we learned Greece recently announced a process for individuals who completed some or all prior COVID-19 vaccination doses abroad to register their vaccinations in Greece through a Citizens’ Service Center (KEP). This would allow individuals vaccinated outside of Greece to obtain appointments for booster shots, or complete a partial series of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine in Greece. Individuals who then complete their two-dose vaccination series or obtain a booster shot in Greece would receive a Greek vaccination certificate, including a Greek and EU QR code.
The troubles lay in getting an appointment in
GMT (Greek 'Maybe' Time)!
We'd read we needed a temporary ID number, known as a PAMKA in Greece in order to receive a vaccination or booster shot. In order to get a PAMKA, we needed to enter into a one of those KEP centers in Athens to fill out some paperwork. No problem...or so we thought.
Upon entry to the KEP, we were halted in the narthex, where not a soul spoke enough English to carry on a fluid conversation. After a good deal of time spent on Google Translate, and wishing we knew more Greek, we managed to ascertain we needed to go to a pharmacy before closing hours and procure a PCR COVID-19 test in order to enter into the building to so much as ask a question!
It began to rain, and we raced to the nearest Φαρμακείο around the corner, obtained proof of two negative PCR tests, then journeyed back to the KEP center.
This time, we were admitted inside. We filled out some paperwork written in Greek, with the aid of Google Translate. We received more papers, with a number which was to be our PAMKA; however, our number was not presently active and who knew how long that might take for the authentication to go through. Weeks? Months?
The woman behind the desk encouraged us to give up before we even began, regarding our endeavor as a fool's errand, so little was her faith in the system, but we weren't about to resign ourselves to defeat after paying roughly $16 for two PCR tests to merely enter the building and ask a question. We were dead-set on seeing this through, come Hell or high water! Come heat-wave or snowpocalypse!
This PAMKA was our ticket to booking an appointment for our vaccination boosters. It had to work. Our vaccinations--James' Johnson & Johnson jab and my double-dose of Moderna--were near-expired. Without these boosters, we would've been considered unvaccinated throughout Greece and the larger part of the European Union. According to the EU guidelines, the last dose of the vaccine must be no older than 270 days. And our flimsy COVID-19 paper vaccination cards from the United States were not always regarded as valid. This became problematic when attempting to purchase SIM cards--especially on the island of Corfu, where we'd been turned away for not having a proper QR code.
There was also the matter of a €5,000 fine for any business which did not comply with the vaccine-check or mask mandates.
In Greece, we've found the rules and regulations are more strictly adhered to than in the Balkan countries. For instance, there is no admittance into any shop or restaurant without a vaccination QR code or vaccine card and passport proof of identification. I appreciate the thoroughness, but some Greek business owners still aren't quite sure what to make of our paper vaccine cards from the US. They haven't kept up to date on the ever-changing rules, and realized that they can and should accept our cards, coupled with the presentation of a valid form of ID. It's been a hassle redirecting them to the government web site (with laws written in Ancient Greek, which some people cannot read!); alas, better safe than sorry. I'm glad they're taking their jobs seriously and being consistent. Especially with this new strain from Africa.
Kate forwarded our PAMKA numbers to the pharmacist, Katerina, and a mysterious text written in Greek appeared on my phone.
And so on January 27th, 2022, we were directed by Kate to stop by her shop, collect the necessary paperwork, and board a train for Marousi to make our scheduled appointments at Prometheus, which had been rescheduled due to inclement weather on multiple occasions.
We narrowly made the train to Marousi, hopped off and meandered through a slush-fest of white fluff and dirty wet ice crystals.
We made it to Prometheus in time for our appointment, which had a three-day grace period due to the "MALAKIA" weather (Read more about this in our other post, "Snow in Athens."). Inside, we were ushered through a labyrinth of underground corridors leading to some military personnel who spoke a fair bit of English.
We got our jabs, but this game wasn't over.
We still had to make the trek back to Piraeus from Marousi, gain readmission into the KEP center, and attempt to procure our vaccination QR codes with proof of our booster shots from Prometheus.
How we pulled this off was nothing short of a miracle.
I appreciate the idea of relationship capital, connectivity, and how people look after one another, and much of society is based on the exchange of favors.
Kate is a gem, and a national treasure, for certain. Katerina, the pharmacist, and sweet Julia who finalized the process at the KEP center at the end of our ordeal are all heroes in my book.
Living in the USA, I feel I was more closed off and wary of connectivity, but in this new chapter, connection has become unfathomably important.
The more I see, the more I realize the less I've seen.
The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.