Not for one moment have I ever considered Covid vaccination to be anything other than hugely positive and beneficial. Everyone who is eligible should be vaccinated. But have I ever thought that a government senior official should be sacked for refusing to be vaccinated?
Until Tuesday this week, Serafín Carballo was the director of the Balearics office for childhood and adolescence. He is - was - often referred to as the ‘Defensor del Menor’, the defender of the minor. On Tuesday, he was sacked. The reason? Sixty-five years old, weeks in to the schedule for his age group to be vaccinated, it was discovered that he hadn’t been vaccinated.
His boss was the minister for social affairs, Fina Santiago. When she became aware that he hadn’t been vaccinated, she spoke to him about this. His stance was “respectable” but it could have consequences because of his position. She spoke to him on a second occasion. His decision not to be vaccinated was firm. She consulted with President Armengol. They were as one. Serafín Carballo is no longer the defender of the minor.
Santiago later stated that although his decision was “legitimate”, he could not continue at the head of a public body given that this personal decision was “incompatible with the values and health criteria that the government defends and promotes with respect to vaccination and public health”.
Most anti-vaxxers are cranks. But not all. There are some who will have “legitimate” reasons. Serafín Carballo’s reason hasn’t been defined, but - and this may not be the reason at all - he is part of an age group of which, as the health ministry indicated a couple of weeks ago, some had chosen not to be vaccinated. These people aren’t necessarily anti-vaxxers. In fact, it may be that none of them are.
They are concerned about AstraZeneca, not against the vaccination per se. This age group is the only one on an AstraZeneca regime. Professionals aged under-60 who had been given an AstraZeneca first dose were given the option of a Pfizer second dose (and the overwhelming majority stuck with AstraZeneca). For the 60 to 69-year-olds, there is no option.
So, we don’t know for sure what his reason was, but regardless of this reason, was it right that he should have been dismissed? In defence of the government’s “values and health criteria”, then arguably it was. However, a Spanish law on the ‘autonomy of the patient’ states that all patients or users have the right to refuse treatment. The defender of the minor, the defender of the rights of the child, has discovered that his rights as a patient are being used against him through the defence of government values and criteria.
How did Fina Santiago get to know that Serafín Carballo had not been vaccinated? Had he strode into her office one day and informed her? No. The information came to light in an unexpected fashion.
The anti-corruption office has been investigating claims that senior government officials jumped the vaccination queue. The office demanded that the government provide vaccination details for all ministers, directors and others of senior rank. This list was updated last week. Rather than showing that Carballo had been vaccinated when he shouldn’t have been, it revealed that he hadn’t been vaccinated at all.
A system of divulging personal health information for one purpose has therefore been used for another. Santiago admits that when this register was compiled, it hadn’t occurred to anyone that there might be a senior official who had declined the vaccination. There wasn’t a written regulation concerning the dismissal of an official in such a circumstance.
The anti-corruption office initiated its investigation because the opposition Partido Popular had presented a formal complaint about senior officials jumping the queue. Now that the Carballo case has emerged, the PP are demanding that the government gives information about any other officials who have declined the vaccination. “It’s very serious,“ Nuria Riera of the PP has observed. Not setting an example to the public will make economic recovery more difficult.
As far as Santiago is aware, Carballo’s is the only case. It now seems a bit rich of the PP to be demanding to know if anyone else hasn’t been vaccinated, as it was its complaint that led to there being a register. No one would have been any the wiser about Carballo, unless he had chosen to tell Santiago, or anyone else for that matter. As for his not setting an example. Oh, come on, are the public going to take much notice of one senior official. If he were the director of the health service, then yes. But he wasn’t.
Yes, I believe that people should be vaccinated. But I also believe they have a right to refuse if there are legitimate reasons. Because of the government’s “values and health criteria, Santiago had no other choice, but was it the correct one?