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VACCINE

Spain to allow companies to handle employees’ vaccinations, but still no green light for private clinics

Spain is set to allow companies to organise the Covid vaccination of their employees through mutual insurance companies, but there are ongoing calls for the private health sector to be incorporated into the vaccine rollout if Spain is to ensure its 70 percent immunisation target is met by August.

Spain to allow companies to handle employees' vaccinations, but still no green light for private clinics
Photos: Miguel Riopa,Cristina Quicler/AFP

Social Security Minister José Luis Escrivá on Monday announced that his government is currently drafting an agreement with the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (CEOE) for companies to manage and schedule their employees’ vaccine through mutual work accident and liability companies, known in Spain as “mútuas”.

The measure would allow Spain’s 17 regions to add 6,800 nurses from the mutual insurance companies to join the vaccine campaign, in turn taking pressure off public health workers who are so far handling almost all the administration of doses. 

“We are going to sign an agreement soon with the mútuas and the CEOE to make the mutual insurance companies’ logistical capacities available to the regions, so that mútua health workers are able to vaccinate in the coming months,” Escrivá told Antena 3 news.

“Mútuas are part of Spain’s social security system,” he stressed, the reason for which the minister and his department are open for the vaccine rollout “being linked to the company/business set-up”.

This represents a first for Spain since the inoculation campaign began on December 27th 2020 as so far the national government has only authorised public health workers to call up patients and administer Covid-19 vaccines. 

Since the start of the year, there have been reports that nurses are having to work extra hours as there isn’t enough extra staff that can be recruited to help increase administered doses per day. 

Spain’s Health Ministry suggested in February it wanted to allow pharmacy workers to carry out vaccinations as well, but so far this measure has only come into force on a regional level in places such as the Valencia region. 

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The national government’s reluctance to incorporate the private health sector into its nationwide inoculation campaign isn’t a sentiment shared by regional authorities in Catalonia, Andalusia, the Canary Islands, Murcia and Madrid, all of whom have enlisted the help of private clinics to a lesser or greater extent. 

According to Spain’s Private Health Alliance (ASPE) there are more than 312,000 private medical professionals, 460 hospitals and thousands of clinics spread throughout the country that have the capacity to help with Spain’s inoculation campaign. 

It’s a far higher figure than the 6,800 mútua workers which will bolster the vaccine campaign in each region as follows: Andalusia would add 904 nurses to its vaccination campaign; Aragon, 279; Asturias, 127; Balearic Islands, 188; the Valencian region, 744; the Canary Islands, 245; Cantabria, 105; Castilla-La Mancha, 251; Castilla and León, 307; Catalonia, 1472; Ceuta, 7; Extremadura, 92; Galicia, 333; La Rioja, 63; the Community of Madrid, 967; Melilla, 12; Murcia, 170; Navarra, 139; and the Basque Country, 392.

“The Ministry of Health has left the planning of the administration of vaccines in the hands of the autonomous communities. Therefore, in the absence of a national plan that contemplates the collaboration of private health as part of Spain’s National Health System, it is each of the regional health administrations that decides whether to do it or not,” ASPE said in a statement.

Their president Carlos Rus added:“Spain cannot assume the risk of being left behind as other countries activate all the mechanisms to achieve immunity by the summer”, in reference to how Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania and Switzerland already have private health fully integrated into their vaccination plans.

“Achieving full-country immunity as soon as possible should be an absolute priority at this time because, in addition to health, the recovery of our economy and many jobs are at stake”.

As of April 16th 2021, 7 percent of Spain’s population have been fully vaccinated (3.3 million) while 9 million have received just one dose.

The 19 Spanish mutual insurance companies that will soon help out with the vaccination campaign are Activa Mutua 2008, Asepeyo, Egarsat, Fraternidad-Muprespa, Fremap, Ibermutua, MAC (Mutua de Accidents de Canarias), MAZ (Mutua de Accidents de Zaragoza), Mutua Balear, Mutua de Andalucía y Ceuta, Mutua Intercomarcal, Mutua Montañesa, Mutua Navarra, Mutua Universal (Mugenat), MC Mutual, Mutualia, Solimat, Umivale and Unión de Mutuas (Unimat).

Spain also has around 3 million foreign residents who are not affiliated to the social security system that gives access to Spain’s public health. The article below sheds some light on how this group, including those with only private health insurance, can get the vaccine in Spain. 

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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