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VACCINE

‘Book vaccine appointment rather than wait for our call’, several Spanish regions ask residents 

Five of Spain’s regions are now allowing their inhabitants to call to book an appointment to get their Covid-19 vaccine, marking an important change in the process as up to now citizens had to wait to get called up for the vaccine. 

'Book vaccine appointment rather than wait for our call', several Spanish regions ask residents 
Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP

Andalusia, Madrid, Navarre, Aragón and the Canary Islands are now allowing their inhabitants to book an appointment to get vaccinated, as long as they form part of the age or priority groups being vaccinated.

This marks a change in tactics for regional health authorities, who are now increasingly seeking to speed up the pace of vaccination by allowing certain groups to plan ahead when they want to get vaccinated.

In Andalusia for example, people aged 57, 58 and 59 years old can now make an appointment to receive their first dose of the vaccine, by either calling, going to the Andalusian Health System website or through the regional health app.

In this case, the time slot will be given according to the vaccine doses available and the system will only allow people to book the first appointment, since the second will depend on the interval established for the vaccine that has been used. For Pfizer this is 21 days whereas for Moderna it is 28 days.

The intention of Andalusian health authorities is to eventually offer the booking option to all age groups, to at least run it side by side with their own system of calling or messaging people to come in to get vaccinated. 

This hybrid system is already in place in Navarre and Aragón, where over 60s who have ‘fallen between the cracks’ and not been called up can phone to get the vaccine.

In the Canary Islands, those born in 1957 can now book their own appointments and in the Balearics 60 to 69 year olds can use the BitCita system to book their vaccine, or if they’re not very savvy with computers they can book through their local pharmacies. 

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Madrid was in fact the first region in Spain to allow their citizens to take the initiative in terms of getting vaccinated, although so far it’s been for only over 70s who can call up their health centres to book. 

As for the regions where residents still have to wait for a call, text or email to be summoned to their local health centre, these include Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Asturias, the Valencia Region and Murcia. 

But more than four months into Spain’s vaccine rollout the general trend is towards offering a broader range of ways in which people can ensure they get the vaccine.

By ‘liberating’ its vaccine modus operandi Spain is following in the footsteps of countries such as France, where President Macron recently announced next-day appointments can be booked by anyone over 18, all of whom will be eligible for the vaccine in June.

Although Spanish health authorities will be focusing their efforts on giving the first dose to their 12 million over 60s in May, and the second dose to those in the older age groups, people aged 50 to 59 are now being vaccinated in some regions. 

These include Andalusia, Murcia, Navarre and Aragón, which began last week, and the Balearic Islands, the Basque Country, Catalonia and the Valencia region are expected to start with their under 60s this coming week. 

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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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