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HEALTH

Why Belgians, Italians, Spanish, and Swiss are coming to France for monkeypox vaccine

Hundreds of Europeans have crossed borders for the monkeypox vaccine, sparking calls to address a gaping inequality in access to doses between nations.

Why Belgians, Italians, Spanish, and Swiss are coming to France for monkeypox vaccine
A pharmacist administers a dose of Imvanex, a vaccine to protect against Monkeypox, at a pharmacy in Lille, northern France (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP)

The current outbreak began in Europe in May, when the virus began spreading rapidly outside areas in Africa where it has long been endemic.

The virus, which is rarely fatal but can cause extremely painful lesions, has overwhelmingly affected men who have sex with men, some of whom have sought to swiftly get vaccinated.

However some countries have had much larger and quicker rollouts of the only approved vaccine for monkeypox, a smallpox jab produced by Danish firm Bavarian Nordic and marketed in Europe as Imvanex.

Belgium, for example, has just 3,000 doses, which are only available to LGBT sex workers, men who have sex with men with sexually transmitted infections or HIV, and some rare contact cases.

But neighbouring France has far more doses. While the exact number is unknown, more than 53,000 doses have already been administered in the country.

READ MORE: France opens monkeypox vaccinedrome

During the European summer many Belgians have popped over the border to get a jab.

Pharmacist Virginie Ceyssac said that 30 to 40 percent of those who had been vaccinated at her Aprium pharmacy in the northern French city of Lille were Belgians.

‘Very warm’ welcome

Samy Soussi of the Brussels-based HIV association ExAequo said that “thanks to word of mouth, we knew that it was possible for Belgians to be vaccinated in France”.

ExAequo even contacted Lille’s vaccination centre to organise carpooling for Belgians to attend a jab rollout day on August 6.

“444 Belgians were vaccinated that morning,” Soussi said, adding they were given a “very warm” welcome.

Around 90 percent of those vaccinated on the day were from Belgium, Lille’s town hall told AFP.

The Hauts-de-France region’s health agency said that its vaccination centres are asked to “respond favourably to requests from Belgian border residents, provided that it does not affect access to vaccinations for the French”.

In France’s capital, vaccinations have also been available for people from outside the country.

“Foreign tourists have taken advantage of their trip to get vaccinated,” said Checkpoint Paris, a sexual health centre dedicated to LGBT people.

However on France’s southern borders, Italians and Spaniards have been very much in the minority for vaccinations, according to local HIV organisations.

Switzerland meanwhile has had zero vaccine doses of its own, though the government bowed to growing criticism by announcing on Wednesday that it would buy 100,000 doses.

Lacking any local doses, “some people have gone to France to get vaccinated without any problems, but others have been refused,” said Alexandra Calmy, head of the HIV unit at Geneva University Hospitals.

Thomas, a 32-year-old in the Swiss town of Montreux, told AFP he spent a fortnight trying to get a vaccination appointment in France.

He eventually managed get an appointment in the eastern French city of Besancon.

“I’ve taken a day off work, I’m going to rent a car and drive,” he said.

‘Expensive and unfair’

A vaccination centre in the French Alpine town of Chambery in the Savoie department refused to give him an appointment.

“We only take people who live in Savoie,” local doctor Silvere Biavat told AFP.

The centre has been “overwhelmed with calls from Swiss people” and has had to turn them away due to a lack of resources, he added.

The French health ministry’s DGS directorate said it was up to vaccination sites whether they administer doses to foreigners.

After being denied an appointment in France, Sergio, a 41-year-old who lives in Geneva, looked farther afield. First he tried in his native Portugal, then in the United States, before finally getting an appointment in London.

“I paid almost 600 euros for a last-minute flight from Geneva to London,” he said.

“It’s expensive and it’s unfair because not everyone can do this… but everyone is afraid” of monkeypox, he said.

The inequality in access has spurred organisations and healthcare professionals across Europe to call for new diplomatic agreements for doses to be shared with countries in need.

“It is not logical that countries like France, Germany and the Netherlands have a great number of the vaccines” while countries like Spain — one of the world’s worst-hit countries — only has 17,000 doses, said Toni Poveda, director of the Spanish HIV organisation CESIDA.

Marc Dixneuf, head of French group AIDES, said that “epidemics don’t pay much attention to borders”.

“What we want is a concerted response at the European level, within the World Health Organization and not just European Union — because we have to include Switzerland,” he said.

French health authorities said they are in contact with Belgium and Switzerland to discuss cross-border monkeypox vaccinations, including financing.

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HEALTH

What is the average waiting time across Spain to see a doctor?

Find out the average amount of time you'll have to wait to see your GP, a specialist and get a non-urgent surgery in your region of Spain.

What is the average waiting time across Spain to see a doctor?

Where you live in Spain greatly affects the amount of time you’ll have to wait, from the first appointment with your family doctor to seeing a specialist and even through to an operation, if you need one. 

Two and half years after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which almost brought the country’s clinics and hospitals to breaking point, how is the situation now?

Here are the average waiting times in each region of the country, with data published by the regional health authorities. 

Andalusia
In Andalusia, the average wait time to see a doctor is four days. To see a specialist such as a dermatologist or a cardiologist, however, you will be waiting three months. Wait times for non-urgent surgeries vary depending on what you need. 

Aragón
Those living in Aragón will typically be able to get a doctor’s appointment within three days, but to see a specialist, it is one of the worst regions in the country, with an average waiting time of four months.

Asturias
The latest waiting times to see a doctor or a specialist in Asturias have not yet been published, but if you need a special test such as an MRI, you will be waiting more than three months.

Balearic Islands
In the Balearics, the average waiting time for an appointment to see your GP is one week, while if you need to see a specialist, you will be waiting around two months. For a non-urgent surgery, you will be on the waiting list for an average of four and a half months. The Balearic Islands are one of the worst places if you need a diagnostic test though with an average wait of more than six months. 

Basque Country
Data from the Basque Country has so far not been made available. 

Canary Islands
Like in Aragón, the Canary Islands is one of the worst places to live if you need to see a specialist with the longest waiting time of more than four months.

Cantabria
Cantabria has so far not updated its data on waiting times to see a specialist, but if you need a non-urgent surgery it has one of the longest waiting times at six months.

Castilla-La-Mancha
Those in Castilla-La-Mancha have one of the shortest wait times to see a GP, being able to book an appointment within just 48 hours. They’ll have to wait longer to see a specialist, however, with an average wait of two months. Those waiting for non-urgent surgery will be waiting another four months.

Castilla y León
In Castilla y León you’ll wait an average of six days before being given an appointment and two months to see a specialist.

Catalonia
Residents of Spain’s northeastern region wait an average of five days in order to get a doctor’s appointment. For diagnostic tests, the wait time depends on what you need. You will be on the list for five months on average for a colonoscopy and two months for an MRI.

If you need to see a specialist again it will completely depend on what type of specialist you need to see. For example, if you need to see a urologist you’ll have to wait five months, but if you need to see a neurologist you’ll be able to get an appointment in less than three months. If your doctor thinks you require non-urgent surgery, you will need to wait another four and half months.

Extremadura
In Extremadura, you’ll have to wait an average of four days for an appointment, while the waiting time to see a specialist will be around two months. Like Cantabria, Extremadura is one of the worst places to live if you need non-urgent surgery, as you’ll be waiting around half a year.

Galicia
Those in Galicia will be able to see a doctor in just three days, however, they have not published recent data on the wait time to see a specialist. They have however published data for non-urgent surgery which is an average wait of three months.

Madrid
Like in Galicia, in Madrid the waiting time for an appointment is just three days, but two months to see a specialist. For a test like an ultrasound or a CT scan, you will be waiting two months. If you need a non-urgent surgery, you’ll be on the waitlist for a further three months.

Murcia
The average wait time to see your GP has not been made available yet, but like in Andalusia, you’ll be waiting more than three months if you need to see a specialist. It’s one of the best regions for wait times for diagnostic tests though as you will be waiting less than one month. 

Navarre
Navarre has one of the shortest wait times for an appointment, available in just 48 hours. If you need to see a specialist, you’ll be waiting a further two months. Those waiting for a non-urgent surgery will have to wait an average of three months.  

La Rioja
Along with Castilla-La Mancha and Navarre, La Rioja has the shortest wait time to get a doctor’s appointment. Here, you’ll be able to see your GP in just 48 hours. This region is also the best to live in if you need to see a specialist or get a specialised test, with a wait of less than one month. If you need non-urgent surgery though it’s not so good, as you’ll be waiting an average of four months.

Valencia
Those living in Valencia have the longest wait out of all the regions for an appointment, where you’ll wait more than a month just to see a GP. When it comes to seeing a specialist you’ll need to wait another three months. And if you need surgery, you will have to wait four and half months on top of that.

The types of non-urgent surgeries the data refers to are hip and knee replacements. For other types of surgeries, it will depend on how urgent it is and what type of surgery it is. At the beginning of the year, there were more than 706,000 people waiting for an operation in Spain, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

You should be aware, however, that official data doesn’t always represent reality. Some readers have told us that currently, they are having to wait a month to see their GP in Catalonia and seven months to see a specialist.

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