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OPINION & ANALYSIS

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

While the more forceful approach of some governments is failing to convince many unvaccinated and making some even more uncompromising, vaccine champion Spain is giving them the facts and letting them decide. So far, it appears to be working.

People stroll around the Catalan town of Sitges in May 2021.
People stroll around the Catalan town of Sitges in May 2021. As of late November, almost 90 percent of Spain's population is fully vaccinated. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

Vaccinated people are three times less likely to contract the Covid-19 Delta variant. 

In the 30-50 age group, the risk of admission to hospital is ten times lower if people are vaccinated. 

In the 60 to 80 age group, the risk of death is 25 times higher for unvaccinated people. 

These are just some of the conclusions drawn from a study that was presented by Spain’s Health Ministry on Tuesday. 

Every week from now on, the ministry headed by Carolina Darias has decided to share with the Spanish public stats from the pandemic’s infection, hospitalisations and deaths indexes that contrast the data between vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The objective is for the Spanish public to “value” vaccines and their positive effects as well as to continue insisting on the importance of getting vaccinated to stop the virus in its tracks. 

The new strategy comes as Europe is again the epicentre of the coronavirus, accounting for two thirds of active global cases (2.4 million).

“The new ECDC and EU risk assessment is clear: we must step up vaccination to control the pandemic,” tweeted European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen on Wednesday, adding that the EU’s vaccination coverage of under 70 percent “gives a wide margin for the spread of the virus”.

In Spain, where infections are rising every day, the situation is still markedly better than across the continent, largely thanks to the fact that almost 90 percent of the eligible population is now fully vaccinated.

Nationwide Covid hospitalisations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low. 

So even though the current infection rate (149 cases per 100,000 people) is similar to that seen last March, the number of people ending up in hospital or dying from Covid now is much lower than 9 months ago.  

bar in burgos spain during the pandemic
Many people in Spain still wear masks outdoors even though they don’t have to in most cases. (Photo by Cesar Manso / AFP)

The Spanish psyche

The truth is that Spain, which was hit hard by the first waves of the pandemic, has barely had to convince its citizens to get vaccinated against the coronavirus since its campaign began in late December 2020.

Since inoculations were approved by the WHO and EMA, any previous vaccination hesitancy has faded away in most cases.

Spain’s successful campaign has proven that there isn’t the same degree of mistrust in government, healthcare or big pharma as in other European countries, nor large conspiracy-driven networks sowing doubt online. 

Talk to people in Spain and there’s a sense that they just want to ‘get on with it’ and get back to normal life, that there is no individual freedom without public wellbeing, no me without you. 

You see it also in the public’s willingness to continue wearing face masks outdoors when they’re no longer necessary in most situations. 

Some may see it as excessively subservient behaviour from a people not famed for always following the rules, but Spaniards’ civic responsibility is a crucial advantage the Spanish government has over its European counterparts. 

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The remaining unvaccinated

For the past few months however, the approximate figure of 4 million unvaccinated people has remained unchanged in Spain, almost stagnant long after all age groups over 12 were called on to get vaccinated earlier in the year. 

This fortunately now appears to be changing. 

In fact, 72,000 people received their first dose over the past week in Spain, a 25 percent weekly increase.

Regional authorities are putting pressure on Spain’s Health Ministry to impose a national Covid health pass to keep the unvaccinated out of the country’s bars and restaurants over Christmas, but Carolina Darias insists that rather than restrictions the focus should be on vaccination and offering information to convince the unvaccinated.  

Claiming this resurgence in vaccination in Spain is only down to the fact-based, non-threatening approach of Spain’s Health ministry wouldn’t be true.

There are numerous other possible reasons for this change of heart among the unvaccinated, from fear of contracting the virus as Spain’s sixth wave slowly gathers pace to the possibility of limitations over Christmas if the Covid health pass is approved in some places.

But the stance of the Spanish government is no doubt playing a pivotal role. 

There’s never been any talk of mandatory vaccination nor threats of restrictions just for the unvaccinated, whose fundamental rights have been consistently protected by the courts.

Getting vaccinated remains their choice and Spain’s health department would rather feed them the science-based facts and let them decide than force them into a corner.

They’re not claiming that vaccines are 100 percent effective, but they’re giving them the data that proves there’s a lower risk of contracting the virus if you are vaccinated and a much lower chance of ending up in hospital or dying from the virus if inoculated.

So far, the message and the approach appear to be working.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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