By Ashifa Kassam
Spain’s health minister has said the country will create a vaccination registry that will include those who refuse to be vaccinated against Covid-19, yielding a document that it will share with other countries in Europe.
Days after EU countries began rolling out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Salvador Illa said that those who reject the vaccine for “whatever reason” would be documented, as is done currently for those with certain other treatments.
“What we will have is a registry, that will also be shared with our European partners … of those who have been offered it and rejected it,” Illa told the broadcaster La Sexta. “The document will not be made public and it will be done with the utmost respect for the legislation on data protection.”
The European commission did not immediately respond to questions over whether this registry reflected an EU-wide initiative or what role Brussels might play in sharing this information.
Privacy advocates are attacking the plan, saying that the list would be impossible to keep private and that it will ineveitably end up in the hands of airlines, employers and medical organizations. “This is an attack on personal privacy and the right of the individual to make decisions suited to herself,” the libertarian Coalición de la Libertad said in a statement.
A source with Spain’s health ministry said the registry was primarily aimed at tracking and documenting the clinical data of those who are vaccinated against Covid-19 but that it would also include those who communicate to public health officials their refusal to get the vaccine.
“The information is collected for the purpose of identifying why someone has not been vaccinated; whether it is a personal decision, a failure in the system or that the person has not been given an appointment,” said the source, who added that the registry could be shared with other EU nations if deemed necessary.
In Spain, the vaccination campaign – launched on Sunday with the first dose given to a 96-year-old woman living in a care home – is being carried out on a voluntary basis.
A poll that canvassed around 3,800 people across Spain in early December suggested 40.5% were willing to be vaccinated immediately, while a further 16% said they would do so if the vaccine was shown to be “reliable”.
Spain is among the European countries hit hardest by the virus, with the official death toll climbing to more than 50,000 on Monday. It has confirmed nearly 1.9 million cases to date.
For weeks health officials have warned that a third wave could be on the way. “We cannot and should not rule it out,” Illa told the broadcaster TVE on Tuesday.
Against this backdrop, health officials have sought to directly address reluctance to have the vaccination. This week, a website was launched featuring answers to 25 questions about the vaccine as well as detailed information about how the different vaccines work.
In the coming weeks, Spain’s vaccination rollout will focus on the most vulnerable as well as healthcare workers. The government expects 15-20 million people in the country of 47 million will be vaccinated against the virus by June.
Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation around Covid-19 are a concern across Europe. In Italy, the Order of Doctors has launched an investigation into at least 13 doctors accused of either denying the existence of Covid-19 or promoting anti-vaccination theories. The order said the doctors had misled, confused and misinformed patients.
Antonio Magi, the president of the Rome Order of Doctors, told La Repubblica: “It is not a witch-hunt, but I have the ethical obligation to sanction those who declare falsehoods. Anyone who gives incorrect information to the population must be punished. There is a code of ethics to follow. And we have a civic and moral duty to vaccinate.”
Italy officially launched its mass vaccination program on Sunday. The first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were given to a researcher, a nurse and a social health worker at Rome’s Spallanzani infectious diseases hospital. The government’s strategy is to vaccinate health workers first. However, according to several media reports, at least one in five health professionals have already refused to be vaccinated.
Credit: The Guardian