In Spain, there has been little controversy about the voluntary nature of the vaccine against covid. At first, before the European Union approved the first one, the then Minister of Health, Salvador Illa, assured that the obligation could be studied if necessary to reach a wide vaccination coverage. But this option was soon scrapped. And the growing acceptance seemed to rule out this option: eight out of ten Spaniards are willing to put it on as soon as possible. But this Tuesday Galicia has left that script. Its Parliament, with the absolute majority of the PP of Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has approved a reform in the Autonomous Health Law that allows sanctioning with fines of between 1,000 and 600,000 euros to people who refuse to be vaccinated against covid and against possible viruses futures.
The law has the rejection of the opposition groups (BNG and PSOE) and that of the central government, which since a few days before the arrival of the first doses in Spain has been promulgating the willingness to receive them. Asked by EL PAÍS, the Ministry of Health is limited to answering that “like the rest of vaccinations in Spain, the vaccine against covid-19 is not mandatory.” It does not clarify whether they will take any measure in this regard or whether what was approved in Galicia will appeal. “Any decision will be reported,” ditch a spokeswoman.
Nationalists and socialists have assured that it will not pass the filters of the Constitutional Court because “it violates fundamental rights and contradicts national regulations.” However, in the face of criticism from the opposition, the PP health spokesperson in the Galician Parliament, Encarna Amigo, has defended that her group is not “doing anything that is not provided for in generic terms in state law.” The fines contemplated in the text approved this Tuesday for people who refuse to be vaccinated could reach 600,000 euros, since the law contemplates three levels (slight, serious or very serious) that will be determined according to “the risk or damage it causes to the health of the population ”and always in the case of the health authorities establish the obligation.
In the opinion of Federico de Montalvo, an expert in health law and vice president of the Bioethics Committee of Spain, the measure may be legally binding. In Spain, mandatory vaccination in situations such as a pandemic has legal support with the public health act of 1986, which allows measures to be taken that limit individual rights as long as they benefit the majority of the community. Although there is no mandatory puncture, there are precedents of judicial decisions in which people have been forced to be vaccinated: after a measles outbreak in Granada in 2010, a judge authorized the forced vaccination of children whose parents refused to to be prodded.
In the case of Galicia, according to Montalvo, it would be necessary to interpret whether an autonomous community can apply the obligation, but he believes that the state of alarm gives powers to its governments to impose measures to stop the epidemic. In any case, he clarifies, here it is not exactly that no one is forced to be vaccinated, but that a legal support is drawn up to sanction in case someone refuses. “The measure is not the same as its application,” he says. “In this case, its role rather than coercive would be an incentive,” he adds.
In any case, when approving a legal norm, it is not only necessary to observe its legality, but also its timeliness. “A measure not only has to be adequate and be legally foreseen, but also be necessary, that there is no less coercive alternative that allows me to achieve the same end. And it is not necessary unless in Galicia there is a specific context of rejection of immunization, ”continues Montalvo. According to the latest CIS barometer, more and more citizens are willing to get vaccinated as soon as they can. 82.9% of those surveyed are willing to do so, 10.4 points more than a month ago (72.5%). The percentage doubles those who answered affirmatively in December (40.5%), days before the injections began in Spain.
This is one of the reasons for rejecting the law provided by Fernando García, president of the Research Ethics Committee of the Carlos III Health Institute and collaborator of the Bioethics and Law Observatory of the University of Barcelona. “Galician law supposes the imposition of a hidden obligation of vaccination, even if it is expressed as a minor offense. The economic sanctions for not being vaccinated that this law includes imply that vaccination ceases to be a voluntary and free decision and becomes an obligation, the non-compliance of which is financially sanctioned. Regardless of the legality of a measure taken unilaterally by an autonomous community in all its scope of competences, without there being particularly serious circumstances in Galicia compared to other communities, this law once again puts the issue of the mandatory nature of the vaccines against covid-19. Today, there is no epidemiological or ethical reason to impose the obligation of vaccination ”, he assures.
Most countries have chosen voluntary vaccination. Some, such as the United Kingdom or San Marino, announced that they would study the possibility of making it mandatory if a large percentage of the population was not reached. Experts calculated that it would take 70% of the population to be pricked to achieve group immunity: for the virus to stop circulating because there are not enough susceptible people to spread. This figure is not so clear, since it is not known to what extent vaccines prevent the infection of the virus or are limited to protect against the disease it causes. Brazil is one of the countries that has declared vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory.
Compulsory vaccinations against other pathogens are not uncommon in Europe. According to the Vaccine Advisory Committee of the Spanish Society of PediatricsIn 11 countries of the European Union, at least one is compulsory (Italy, Latvia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia, France, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Greece and Belgium).
The reform of the Galician Health Law has been urgently promoted by the PP and not by the Xunta, which would require mandatory reports for this. A fact that for the opposition groups shows that the PP led by Feijóo has wanted to “avoid legal reports.” The rule also imposes other sanctions, such as a fine for not wearing a mask, which is set at a minimum of 100 euros, with the possibility of an increase depending on the breach. And among other minor infractions are also making a bottle, breaking curfews, meetings with more people than allowed, participating in parties that violate the measures approved by the health authorities and non-compliance with local hours.
For the BNG, the new norm supposes “a constant threat, introduces coercive measures, suppresses and limits fundamental rights without a time limit”. The new text authorizes the health authorities “to require the identification of persons and to issue mandatory orders,” Carreira stressed.
For his part, the PSOE health spokesman, Julio Torrado, warned that the PP “uses fear to cut rights” using a “dubious legal framework.” Torrado described the Xunta as an “authoritarian sanctioning regime that camouflages the cutting of fundamental rights and public freedoms behind a law.”
The PP has shown its satisfaction with the new law. “It is an important day for the approval of a legislative reform that what it does is come to give a guarantee and act responsibly,” said the PP spokesperson for whom the rule was necessary given that the health regulatory framework “was not prepared to such a long pandemic ”. “We are not doing anything that is not provided in generic terms in state law,” Amigo said. And in the face of criticism from the opposition, he denied the authoritarian nature of the norm. “Far from being authoritarian, what it does is regulate and set limits to guarantee dignified assistance to those infected.”
The popular also justify the legislative reform by once again attacking the administration of the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez. “He compromised a reform of the organic law that never came,” protested the PP spokesperson, warning that the state of alarm “does not specify” and yet “limits” the actions that communities can develop.