Spain expats: will we get a Covid vaccine?

5/4/2021: Please see the unhappy update at post end.  I’ll update again if I learn more.

5/27/2021:  I have an appointment!  Please see:

I write to share the little I know. Or think I know.

Will your embassy help?

Mine won’t. Neither will the UK, Australia or New Zealand embassies, if it’s any consolation. All punt to Spanish health authorities.

Will your private health plan help?

Sanitas won’t, or can’t, although I had to call to get the bad news. Their web site wouldn’t tell me.

Will Spain help?

Spain says it will. Life has shaped you into a more trusting soul than this writer if you accept that assurance at face value. See brindis al sol, or perhaps del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho.

How can I get Spain to help?

If you’re in Madrid and can handle an all-Spanish yak on the phone, you can call the community’s Covid-19 information line:

900 102 112

and answer questions about NIE, date of birth, other stuff to be added to a register. I have called three times, have waited between five and fifteen minutes to interact with a non-robotic fellow human, and have been treated cordially by that fellow human on each occasion.

“You’ll be called,” they said. Unfortunately, one CSR said that Madrid does not host a web site that can accept this information online, and does not offer any way of verifying if the information was recorded correctly. Shank pronounciation on one digit of your phone number and you might as well have signed up in Ulaanbaatar.

I know one Spanish native in my age bracket who already has been vaccinated. I’m still waiting. I wait uneasily: I have seen no web site assuring extranjeros that we can reserve our place in line through this phone call. I rely only on the CSRs’ verbal assurance that I did right by calling.

If you’re contacted, the call* may come from a special Madrid number:  913 700 001.  Answer!  Please!  It’s not a phone solicitor!  Add it to your contacts list!  The call is still sure to come when you’re on the throne or otherwise undisposed, life being what it is, but at least you’ll hear the ring.

An undated expatfocus article geared for extranjeros countrywide says: most local health centres are allowing expats to do a “soft registration” in which they submit their name and contact information solely for the purpose of receiving the vaccine. My local Madrid center suggested nothing similar, instead provided the 900 102 112 number.

If you’re in Andalucia, you get a web site tailored just for folk in your overseas boat.  Fill out a form, deliver it to a local health center.

The Local published a recent article geared specifically for Catalonia:

Can I sign up with the Spain health system?

Some in Madrid can, at least if they’ve lived in the capital for a year, but I haven’t done it this way, and will quickly and cravenly punt to an all-Spanish web site  and let you hack through the paragraphs on your own. I’ll bet you’re plenty used to such hacking, if you stumbled across this blog post while hunting for Spain vaccine news.

You may want to use a digital certificate in the process. I wrote a post in 2019 that tells how I got one, hope that the information holds true in 2021.

I assume — emphasis: assume, do not know for fact — that those in the Spanish health system can join the vaccine line with certainty and without dispute. The rub is getting in the system.

Update, April 12: * … or text message, according to the above-mentioned Spaniard.  I spoke to him this weekend.  The message provided a date, time and place for a vaccination, and an opportunity to accept or reject the appointment.  He accepted, received the first of two AstroZeneca shots, and hurt like the dickens the following day.

(a much longer) Update, May 4: 

I’m not optimistic that I’m going to get a Covid-19 vaccine in Spain anytime soon.

Articles at the Local  and at a UK government site also punt to the 900 102 112 # for expats in Madrid. I have now called this number nine times. Hold times have dropped; I usually can get through in less than five minutes. CSRs are always polite. There are a lot of them; I believe the department now employs over a hundred. (Although I’m too lazy to hunt for the link that would back me up.)

From my first call on March 31 through my fourth call on April 26, I always was told that I had to do no more than to provide vital stats: identification #, name, date of birth, etc. ‘You’ll be contacted.’

On April 30, the story changed.

‘No, you won’t be contacted,’ said a CSR. ‘You’ll have to visit the ayuntamiento first, register there. Then you’ll be contacted.’

I didn’t understand what department at the ayuntamiento I was supposed to visit or what documents I was supposed to bring with me, and neither did a fellow American expat who was told roughly the same thing on the same day.

‘Maybe I pulled a nutty CSR,’ thought I, and called back a few hours later. A second CSR reassured me that I didn’t have to visit the ayuntamiento, that I’d already done what I had to do by providing my vital stats, that I just had to be patient.

I brooded over my unvaccinated arm, decided to call back this morning.

‘What you need to do,’ said a new CSR, ‘is register with your district junta.’

Junta means ‘council,’ or ‘board’ (at least in this context). Madrid hosts twenty-one. This advice wasn’t that distant from the tip about the ayuntamiento.

‘Our system doesn’t know you exist,’ the CSR continued.  ‘You have no record in the national health system.’

I hoped that the CSR was wrong, called again an hour later. The new rep seconded the advice about contacting the junta. I had to do something to get in Spain’s health system database, she explained, at least temporarily. No record, no contact.

So I called my local junta. Lotsa Spanish conversation practice today!

Two junta employees had utterly no idea of what the CSRs were talking about.

I called 900 102 112 for the third time today, and the ninth time since March 31. My new rep sounded depressed.

‘What you need to do,’ she said, ‘is register with the Social Security system.’

That’s as far as I’ve gotten with 900 102 112. On a lark, I decided to print out my empadronamiento and swing by my local public health system center on the way to a shopping trip.

‘Is there a list you could add me to?, asked I, meekly.

No, there wasn’t.

My interpretation of this kafkiano situation:

As have other communities planetwide, Madrid has built a bureaucratic machine to administer the Covid-19 vaccine. If you’re enrolled in the public health system, the machine is working. Roll-out here has been a lot slower than in the U.S., but it’s happening. I know two vaccinated Spaniards, although one must await a second shot in June.

If you’re not in the system, you’re in a hole.  You likely were required to show proof of private health insurance to get a Spain visa, but that private health plan can’t provide the Covid-19 vaccine, for reasons unknown.

(Too easy, perhaps. Why fix a problem when you can create busy work and induce suffering? Late revenge for the Spanish-American war!)

The CSR platoons at 900 102 112 obviously are being given inadequate and conflicting advice on how to handle stray extranjeros.   There may be a reliable way to add my name “temporarily” to the health system roster in Madrid, but I am skeptical that I have learned what this way is, if it exists at all.  I suspect that I’ll either have to try to join the public health system, through the untested-and-unexplored path mentioned above,  or pray that private health plans in Spain be permitted to give Covid vaccines, too.

If I learn more, I’ll update this post.

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