Slovakia cannot be a closed island of the vaccinated. We need to view vaccination globally

People should not fear their residence status will be an issue at the vaccination centre, human rights lawyer says.

Zuzana ŠtevulováZuzana Števulová (Source: TASR)

Human rights lawyer Zuzana Števulová was involved in efforts to find out about the vaccination of foreigners in Slovakia when it turned out it wasn't a straightforward affair.

The Slovak Spectator spoke to Števulová about the vaccination of foreigners in Slovakia, the concerns about possible vaccination tourism, and the ban on holidays abroad.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Covid-19 vaccination is still unavailable to people without public health insurance, including some groups of foreigners. The Health Ministry proposed changes but the law has been stuck in the parliament due to the recent coalition crisis. Why were these groups overlooked and their vaccination is on the table only three months into the vaccination roll-out in Slovakia?

Zuzana Števulová (ZŠ): It's a huge mistake. The vaccination strategy should have been prepared and discussed in advance, to avoid these situations where we do not know who can be vaccinated. The vaccination strategy does not tell us much about who pays for the jabs, either.

The government could have spent some time finding out whether all inhabitants, not only citizens, are covered. The virus does not choose people according to the citizenship or health insurance and if we want to reach the critical mass of vaccinated people to ensure herd immunity, we need to vaccinate all the people living in the area. Every non-vaccinated person poses a risk.

TSS: The original vaccination strategy had a special category for asylum seekers, homeless people and the marginalised Roma communities. This is no longer the case and the decisive factor is age now. What is your view of that?

ZŠ: I think putting age first is right, together with professions in healthcare or social services, the way we have it now. I am not happy to see younger people getting vaccinated before seniors. The higher the number of vaccinated people the better only applies up to the point when a critical portion of people older than 65 are vaccinated. If they aren't, the critical situation in hospitals may still continue.

I am not aware why asylum seekers, homeless people and others were left out of the vaccination strategy. The government never explained it. The main problem could have been about who should pay for their vaccination, since these people typically do not have health insurance. Another reason may be the difficulty of the process itself. The vaccines currently used in Slovakia require two doses. It may be problematic in the case of these people to set up a second vaccination appointment. This is particularly complicated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, when the gap between doses is ten weeks.

The Health Ministry indicated that when the first single-dose vaccine Janssen by Johnson & Johnson arrives to Slovakia, it will be used for people who need to be reached by a mobile vaccination team in their homes, or for homeless people. I assume that it could also be used for asylum seekers.

But this is a specific group, while there are 150,000 foreigners living in Slovakia. The people who prepared the vaccination strategy may not have known that these foreigners could have other than public health insurance.

TSS: One concern mentioned with regard to the vaccination of foreigners in Slovakia is vaccination tourism. People in Slovakia who are still waiting for their jab, could feel that people from other countries may be allowed to come and get their jab and push them back in the line. Are such fears justified? Can the state prevent this from happening?

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