Spain on Sunday reached the milestone of 60 percent of its population fully vaccinated.
And yet Covid hospitalisations around the country stand at 10,000 with 2,000 patients in ICU, the latest health ministry data reports.
Although the majority of infections are among young people who are not yet fully immunised, hospitalisations and deaths are also up among care home residents and other priority groups who were vaccinated several months ago.
This has opened up the debate over whether the vaccine should be obligatory for some Spanish workers, whose jobs and contact with people makes them likely candidates to infect others.
The argument in favour is particularly strong among those calling for health staff and care home workers to be required to be fully vaccinated, with five regional governments requesting Spain’s Health Ministry take action and follow a system already in place in France.
Spain’s national health authorities have proposed that unvaccinated workers at these centres are forced to undergo two weekly Covid tests or even be forcibly transferred to positions where they don’t come into contact with the elderly.
But the Spanish government’s stance on compulsory vaccination for all Spaniards has not changed since the campaign began in late December 2020, the argument being that it’s not necessary, especially in light of the high rate of inoculation and low vaccine scepticism.
Galicia was the only region which attempted to impose obligatory vaccination to all its inhabitants, but the measure was rejected by Spain’s Constitutional Court back in April.
“Imposing obligations when they are not necessary is not a good step and it means we won’t be able to use such measures if necessary in future,” Spain’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón told journalists on Sunday, in reference also to his government’s opposition to a nationwide Covid health pass to access bars and restaurants.
When asked if the vaccine should be compulsory for care home staff, Simón argued that the inoculation rate in these centres is “well above 90 percent, up to 97 percent in some cases, which is very good, although it’s true that there are still a small number of people left who are not vaccinated and then the few who, even if they are vaccinated, do not develop immunity”.
Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias has also recently rejected the idea of imposing mandatory vaccination against Covid-19 at a national level because “people are already getting vaccinated in great numbers”.
“In relation to the measures that Macron has imposed in France vis-a-vis mandatory vaccination, this won’t be necessary in Spain, at least for now,” Darias said in an interview on Youtube channel Unicoos.
“Each age group that we open up for vaccination sees people go to get vaccinated en masse”.
Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP
But with Spanish health authorities already setting themselves the target of getting “as close as possible to 100 percent immunity” among the country’s 47 million inhabitants, ensuring key workers are vaccinated may be necessary to avoid future outbreaks.
The Canary Islands’s regional government is currently studying if they can make the vaccine compulsory for civil servants and Murcian authorities want all essential workers who deal with the elderly to be required to be vaccinated.
Others, such as Cantabrian leader Miguel Angel Revilla, want the Spanish government to “find the legal path to impose compulsory vaccinations” for everyone “so that “a handful of people don’t complicate the lives of everyone else”.
Arguments for and against are likely to continue in September as millions of workers are set to return to work after the summer holidays, in many cases with employers expecting them back at their workplaces.
Although companies such as Google and Netflix have been able to make the vaccine compulsory for their US workers, there is no precedent of this in Spain, nor a legal instrument to facilitate it.
By all accounts, Spain will meet its initial target of full vaccination among 70 percent of its population by late August, but will it be enough for things to return somewhat to normal by September when schools and work restart?