Anti-vaccination groups are protesting a program that requires

On March 1, tens of thousands of people in Madrid will gather outside the Spanish parliament to condemn the government’s decision to go ahead with a vaccination program for the new Aussie flu variant….

Anti-vaccination groups are protesting a program that requires

On March 1, tens of thousands of people in Madrid will gather outside the Spanish parliament to condemn the government’s decision to go ahead with a vaccination program for the new Aussie flu variant.

The country’s Health Ministry has said that it will require anyone between 10 and 64 years old who visits a public health clinic to have been immunized with the influenza A subtype H3N2 strain of the influenza A/H1N1 influenza virus. This controversial measure is not unusual in countries stricken by Aussie flu –- ranging from Mexico to the United States -– where there is almost universal opposition to such public vaccination programs.

In Spain, the authorities are taking the risk of infection seriously, which is probably an attempt to gain some control over the spreading epidemic. “A vaccination campaign has been started in the Canary Islands, and we will be extending it to other islands as it seems the priority is to prevent risk,” said Julián Arenas, director of the health authority of Gran Canaria, in a recent interview with El Mundo newspaper. On the island of Tenerife, the authorities are actively recruiting people to participate in the vaccination program, recruiting the first 2,000 volunteers on Sunday.

“People see the plan as being in their benefit,” Arenas said, adding that since September 1, more than 4,000 hospitalizations and nearly 1,500 deaths have been reported from the new strain of influenza.

Nonetheless, the vaccination plans are controversial. For example, protesters took to the streets of Madrid last month to denounce the deployment of a contract vaccinator (a vaccinator armed with an injectable vaccine who is dressed in full-body protective gear) in a food market. “The government isn’t helping the public,” one of the protesters said. A group called Citizens Against Influenza H3N2 also claimed the anti-vaccination campaign is responsible for the continuing “badly-organized” issue. The group has launched a campaign that it says aims to raise awareness of “the scientific case against vaccinations,” which are often called the “killer” flu because of the high risk of fatalities associated with them.

Other anti-vaccination organizations including Active Citizens and Spain’s Deep-Red Alliance claim the program is ineffective and that it does not achieve its goals. The latter, for example, opposes vaccinating high-risk patients and not those who are less susceptible. Active Citizens, which organized the gathering of demonstrators in Madrid, also maintains that vaccination is “the most immoral thing one can do.”

The group also accuses the Spanish Health Ministry of “covering up the fact that the vaccine is made by US pharmaceutical giants” and of “controlling the vaccination of the population.”

As such, a number of political parties, including the Socialist Workers Party, the Popular Party and the Citizens’ Party, have signed onto a letter condemning the “seizure of health care resources.” This group expressed concerns over the projected unavailability of vaccine stocks, because of the less aggressive vaccination policy that is set to go into effect in Spain.

A more recent opposition has arisen due to the government’s decision to initially refrain from using federal budget funds for vaccinations. According to a March 3 report from the El Mundo newspaper, the National Health Institute made a number of decisions regarding the vaccination campaign, like “not to have a number of public pandemic inoculations since the method of obtaining the vaccine does not include costs, but rather on-the-spot costs” that was justified by the fact that 50 percent of vaccinations have already been bought by European countries. The institute also refused to have a regular training program run for the people that perform the vaccinations and no technical police are being deployed in the clinics.

“The correct attitude in handling public health resources is a preventive attitude, not a punitive,” said Fernando Buero, a member of the Spanish Senate.

“Shame on the health authorities,” commented María Teresa Fernández d’Abadie, a member of the socialist party. “They showed an extremely low level of control of the disease,” said Gerardo Álvarez, a member of parliament for the Citizens Party. The president of the Scientific Committee of the European Union, Villy Ismatian, told El Mundo: “This would not have happened in any country where the chief is in charge of public health.”

In its report, El Mundo quoted the National Health Institute’s chief, Sínauni Pazarre, as saying that the report amounted to

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