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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.

Member comments

  1. This article has mistakenly said that the German government has announced a mandate. It hasn’t. Parliament has yet to vote. Surprising oversight here.

    “…and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.”

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COVID-19

How can tourists and people vaccinated abroad get Spain’s Covid health pass for daily affairs?

As Spain’s regions start to require a Covid certificate to enter bars, restaurants and other indoor areas, we look at whether tourists or residents in Spain vaccinated abroad can get the Spanish Covid health pass for daily affairs, and if there are any alternatives or solutions.  

A waiter checks a customer's Covid-19 health pass on a mobile phone at the entrance of a restaurant. Photo: FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP
A waiter checks a customer's Covid-19 health pass on a mobile phone at the entrance of a restaurant. Photo: FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP

A growing number of autonomous communities in Spain are getting approval from their local high courts to implement the requirement of the Covid Digital Certificate (or Covid health passport or pass) for domestic matters. 

The rules vary between regions but the requirement of showing a paper or digital certificate on your mobile phone reflecting full vaccination, testing or recovery is now applicable for many bars, cafés, restaurants, nightclubs, hospitals, care homes, weddings, other celebrations and large events across the country. 

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

But do people in Spain – visitors or residents – who have been vaccinated abroad also need to show this Covid certificate issued in Spain for daily affairs? Or can Covid health passes issued abroad be used instead?

Here’s what we know so far:

The Covid-19 health pass for daily affairs is new in Spain, having only been used and checked for international travel purposes until recently. 

That may explain why Spanish authorities have not yet made an official announcement about what foreign visitors have to show when on their holidays in Spain. 

Spain’s Certificado Digital Covid is usually issued by the country’s 17 different regional authorities, who are the ones who have to ask their high courts to approve their use for daily affairs. 

These documents, which can be downloaded on each regional government’s website, are no different from the Covid health passports used for travel.

Foreign tourists in Spain 

Unlike in France, where visitors have to convert their vaccine certificates or tests into a format that’s compatible with the French system, Spain recognises certificates issued “by the competent authorities” of other countries.

There is no expectation that tourists provide a Spain-issued Covid health pass as these are only technically available to people who were vaccinated by the Spanish public health system (more on that later). 

If asked for a Covid certificate for domestic matters in Spain, the same Covid certificate which tourists use to travel to Spain (and had to upload to the Spain Travel Health website or app to get a QR code) contains the information required to show your vaccination, testing or recovery status.

Vaccination certificates accepted by Spanish authorities have to be in either Spanish, English, French or German (if not it should be accompanied by an official translation into Spanish by an official body).

A waitress talks to a tourist at a restaurant on a beach in Magaluf on the Island of Mallorca on July 27, 2020. - Tour operator TUI has cancelled all British holidays to mainland Spain from today until August 9, after the UK government's decision to require travellers returning from the country to quarantine. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)
On December 2nd, authorities in the Balearic Islands started to require a Covid-19 health pass for customers to access the indoor spaces of bars, cafés and restaurants. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

They also have to show the name and surname of the vaccinated person, the date of vaccination (indicating the date of the last dose administered), the type of vaccine administered and the number of doses administered. 

Spain recognises the NHS Covid Pass, other EU Digital Covid Certificates, vaccination certificates issued in the US and others that fulfil the criteria above. 

Will police officers be checking tourists’ Covid health passes? So far, only the Valencia region has announced it plans to deploy police officers to ensure businesses and customers are abiding by the new rules. 

But in general terms, it seems more likely that it will be managers and staff checking Covid health passes to allow access to indoor spaces.

They will no doubt skim through tourists’ digital Covid passes, look for the name of an approved vaccine and that “2 out of 2” doses have been administered and wave them in, rather than scanning any QR codes. 

So all things considered, if you’re a tourist in Spain who needs to prove full vaccination, testing or recovery to enter an indoor space, carry with you the Covid-19 health pass or vaccine certificate you used to travel to Spain. 

Residents vaccinated abroad 

Many foreign residents in Spain as well as Spaniards overseas have had to face the problem of not being able to access the Covid certificate of the region they’re in. 

The Local Spain reported on this last July, when the primary problem of not being able to download these documents was the difficulties it meant for travel. 

READ MORE: ‘We’re in limbo’: The foreigners in Spain who can’t get a Digital Covid Certificate for travel

It’s affected people who did get vaccinated in Spain but don’t have public health details as they use private health insurance, residents who were vaccinated in another country, tourists who got Covid-19 in Spain but couldn’t get proof of recovery and those who’ve run into other technical problems or misunderstood situations. 

Now the problem of not being able to get a Spain-issued Covid-19 health could – depending on their location – mean they can’t access certain indoor public spaces either.

Are there any potential solutions?

Some regional health departments such as the Valencian Community’s are willing to accept foreign vaccination certificates and provide those with public health details a Spanish Covid health pass, but this isn’t necessarily possible everywhere in the country. 

Sources from Spain’s Ministry of Health reportedly told Spanish online website Newtral.es that “the registration of a vaccination carried out abroad depends on the criteria of the healthcare professional” and is determined by whether the documents provided are “reliable to be considered as proof of vaccination”.

In other words, as we’ve seen at previous stages of the pandemic, people in this situation can be slightly at the mercy of what an individual health worker or health centre considers appropriate; a case of crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.

This was previously seen when people who had had Covid-19 needed a second dose to be able to travel to countries such as the US or the UK, but had to ask around at different vaccination centres in the hope that one health worker would break protocol.

Fortunately, the Spanish government eventually caught wind of this and people in this situation can now request a second vaccination as there’s a national rule in place.

Our hope is that by covering the limbo in which many people in Spain still find themselves in vis-à-vis Covid-19 health passes, Spain’s Health Ministry will take action.

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