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ANALYSIS

OPINION: ‘Not all parents in Spain are in favour of their children getting the Covid vaccine’

As several Spanish regions start vaccinating their teens ahead of the new school year and with the infection rate still sky-high among young people, Graham Keeley captures the mood among parents and children in Barcelona.

OPINION: 'Not all parents in Spain are in favour of their children getting the Covid vaccine'
Photo: Photo: CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP

Needles and children are never easy bedfellows.

The fear of a tiny pin prick in your arm far outweighs the reality, of course, but try telling that to a terrified youngster.

So when the prospect of vaccinating the children came up, it was perhaps no surprise that out of nowhere it revealed a burgeoning anti-vaxxer movement in the midst of our family.

I would far rather get a PCR test than getting injected,” said one of the brood.

Not bothered about a vaccine. Who knows what effect it might have? I am not doing it until I really have to,” said another.

The eldest of the three boys, who is 12 and now in the group which the Spanish authorities are targeting to give the jab, had perhaps a more rational attitude.

If it helps me to go travelling or makes it easier to go back to school or whatever, I will do it – if I have to,” he said.

The conversation came up as this week regional governments across Spain have begun to roll out a programme of vaccinating anyone over 12 without needing an appointment.

The idea is to speed up the vaccination programme at a time when it could slow because people are on holiday or because of the feeling that the pandemic is – more or less – under control. The coronavirus contagion rate has been coming down this month but the 14-day rate stands at 528 cases per 100,000 per inhabitants.

READ ALSO: Vaccine scramble – How Spaniards want Covid jabs more than other Europeans

The percentage of intensive care beds used for Covid-19 cases stands at 21 percent.

Spain is aiming to give 80 percent of the 47 million population the jab to ensure that the famous herd immunity will guard against a sixth wave of Covid-19.

Already 70.4 percent of the population has received at least one dose, while 60.2 percent has had both. This means Spain leads the European Union in terms of the number of people who have been double-jabbed.

For children, the priority is to speed up vaccination levels before the new school term starts again.

vaccines children spainPhoto: Jeff J Mitchell / POOL / AFP

Teenagers and those in their 20s , who have experienced a sharp rise in infections because they are going out and partying, have also become a priority for health authorities.

For state schools in Spain, the new term start is about a month away so the race is on to jab as many children as soon as possible.

At the present the priority is to vaccinate children above 12 because those below that age fortunately have not shown serious complications if they have caught the virus,” said Joan Cayla, of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology.

Many of my boys’ friends have already had the jab. As it is not necessary to make an appointment, it is like a drive-in service, a little like McDonalds. Easy.

However, from anecdotal evidence there is growing opposition to vaccinating teenagers among some parents.

I am not going to get my three children vaccinated. It seems that there is a low infection rate among children so is it worth it?” one friend said.

The reasoning here appeared to be that unless you have to travel, it is not worth the bother.

As the vaccination programme continues apace in Spain in other countries, the logical move seems to be offering the jab to those under 12.

Experts feel this is a move which studies will soon prove is safe to go ahead with.

The context will determine whether we go ahead and vaccinate children under 12,” said Rafael Bengoa, a former World Health Organisation (WHO) health systems director who is now a director of the Institute for Health and Strategy in Bilbao.

One would be: should we give those doses to lower income countries? Or should they be used as a third dose for the elderly population?”

Professor Bengoa added: “Organising a safe return to school all have good arguments in public health terms.

However, the most reasonable move seems to be to follow WHO guidelines and use vaccines for 10 percent of vulnerable people in lower income countries because that will also help to control variants.”

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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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