Half of unvaccinated young people uninterested

Catalan Government changes its strategy: it dismantles mass vaccination points and moves into neighbourhoods with lower vaccination rates

4 min
La Farga mass vaccination point

BarcelonaHalf of the people between 20 and 40 who have not yet been vaccinated against covid in Catalonia do not believe it is necessary. They may not distrust the vaccine nor doubt the existence of the virus, but they pay no attention to the pandemic. Getting vaccinated is not a priority in their lives, either because they do not believe that the coronavirus is dangerous for them and they are not worried about getting infected or falling ill, or because they have already been infected, mostly with mild symptoms, and now they trivialise the effects of contagion. To find out their reasons for not getting vaccinated, the Department of Health has called about 15,000 young people aged 20 to 40 who have declined immunisation. It has confirmed that not only the absence of fear of the virus plays an important role in this refusal: distrust of the vaccine and its side effects also holds back 27% of respondents. On the other hand, only 5% say they refuse to be vaccinated because they are denialists.

Health authorities warn that both distrust of vaccines and overconfidence about the triviality of contagion are dangerous attitudes. The Secretary of Public Health, Carmen Cabezas, stressed on Wednesday that almost all patients under 40 admitted to hospital for covid were not vaccinated: of the 450 currently hospitalised for coronavirus in Catalonia, around forty are aged between 20 and 40, and 94% had not yet received either dose of the vaccine when they were admitted. In intensive care units (ICU) the importance of immunisation is even more evident: of the 9 critically ill covid patients in this age group, 8 have not been vaccinated. "That is why we insist so much on vaccination: because the adverse effects are few, mild and go by quickly, and are nowhere near as bad as those that can occur when infected, and also because the vaccine is very good at preventing serious cases," Cabezas insisted.

With 80.7% of Catalans over the age of 12 having been fully vaccinated, the success of the vaccination campaign in Catalonia is unquestionable. But this percentage continues to be insufficient, especially among the youngest, which are precisely the age groups with more room to increase the coverage rate. The age groups that are to get vaccinated are 20-29-year-olds, only 62.5% of whom are fully immunised (59% 15 days ago), and the 30-34-year-olds, only 62.9% of whom are vaccinated (59.9% two weeks ago). The third least vaccinated group is the 12-15-year-olds, 61.7% of whom have been vaccinated, but it is fair to say that they are an exception: their immunization rate is increasing much faster than other young age groups.

At the moment, one in five Catalans has not yet taken the step of getting vaccinated and, although the summer and holidays were a brake on the campaign in the population as a whole, the main cause of stagnation is the immunisation of young people. They are the age group with the most social interaction, but also the only one that has failed to reach the minimum 70% coverage. Despite the fact that the proportion of vaccinated people has not been growing at the desired rate for weeks, the Public Health Secretary aspires to increase it to maximum figures. And precisely because the goal is to get as close as possible to 100% coverage, Cabezas does not set any percentage of vaccinees as a milestone in the short or medium term. The Department is confident that many of those who have not got vaccinated (19.3% of those over 12) will change their minds "with information" and that only a very small proportion of staunch denialists will remain unvaccinated.

Local actions

In order to motivate this change of mind among the undecided, the Government will change its vaccination strategy. Mass vaccination centres which have been the cornerstone of the government strategy for past six months will gradually be dismantled and efforts will be redirected to interventions in the community, e.g. markets, places of worship or shopping centres, but also in health centres, where opportunistic vaccinations are made (people who turn up for another reason and who are offered the vaccine), and universities.

The first vaccination points to close their doors are those set up in the Faculty of Geography and History of Barcelona and La Farga in Hospitalet de Llobregat, where on Wednesday Cabezas spoke to the media to explain the new phase of the campaign. The feeling among the hundred professionals who have been working voluntarily for months at La Farga is bittersweet: on the one hand, they are pleased to have completed their task and to be able to leave the facility; on the other hand, they have to abandon a space they feel as their own. In this mass vaccination centre up to 6,700 doses were administered in a single day. Now, however, they are only administering between 200 and 300.

However, the head of La Farga mass vaccination point, Daniel Revilla, is optimistic and argues that vaccination in Catalonia has not yet reached its peak. "We have achieved a very high percentage of vaccination, but we know that we can still go further. The way to do it is the local action: information, raising awareness and offering the vaccine," he says. The first phase of the vaccination strategy, which was to achieve a 70% vaccination rate, has already been completed thanks to the mass vaccination points, but now the priority is to take doses closer to the groups for whom it is harder to ask for the vaccine voluntarily. And above all to do it close to home or within their community. "For some time we have been doing an exhaustive analysis of the territorial coverage to identify the neighbourhoods or groups with lower vaccination rates, and we have seen that, despite the fact that the mass campaign has been open to all groups for months, until we approach them they do not dare to take the step of getting vaccinated," explains Revilla.

Health's goal is to administer vaccine after vaccine. "We are pivoting the vaccination campaign towards proximity. We want to get closer to this population, get closer to where they live and explain in person why they need to be vaccinated," Cabezas insisted. It will be the vaccination teams – made up of 8 or 10 professionals, including administrative staff and nurses – who will move around to vaccinate and overcome the language and cultural divide that often makes the population wary of the authorities. "We have observed a higher percentage of reluctance in people from Eastern Europe and North Africa, despite the fact that we have translated all the materials and resources into several languages to reach them and that we have deployed actions in mosques and markets," Cabezas said. That is why, he stresses, that community intervention with awareness and information is one of the main ways to overcome the immunisation curves. "Every vaccine we can give counts," agrees Revilla