Spain to launch Whatsapp channel to fight vaccine disinformation

Germany’s lead data protection regulator for Facebook said on Tuesday (13 April) that it was taking action against the social network to prevent the collection of personal data from users of its WhatsApp messaging app.

Spain’s health ministry will soon launch a WhatsApp interactive channel to fight against disinformation on COVID-19 vaccines, El País reported. This should help reduce the percentage of Spaniards who still refuse to get vaccinated. EURACTIV’s partner EuroEfe reports.

According to a poll by the state-owned Centre for Sociological Research (CIS) released last November, around 30% of the Spanish population still refuses to get immunised against the coronavirus, preferring to let “others” try COVID-19 vaccines first.

While the Spanish government launched a dedicated website last December to answer citizen’s questions about the vaccines, the new app is an extra tool in the national effort to “create a culture of ‘I vaccinate myself safely, with all the answers I need’,” Spain’s health ministry sources stressed.

Answers in a clear language

Vaccination against the virus is not obligatory in Spain, but people who refuse to get vaccinated are included (anonymously) in a specific database, which – in principle – is only accessible to a reduced group of people within the health ministry.

“Developing a chatbot through WhatsApp or other applications in which citizens can raise their questions to the administration” is one of the many tools mentioned in the national vaccination strategy.

With the new COVID-19 WhatsApp interactive channel, citizens will have the possibility to ask practical questions about the vaccines and get answers in a clear way, not in the sometimes complex language used by experts or researchers.

Spain to keep registry of people who refuse Covid vaccine

Spain will set up a registry of people who refuse to be vaccinated against the new coronavirus and share it with other European Union member states, although it will not be made public, Health Minister Salvador Illa said.

Reluctant citizens should not be stigmatised

Recent news about the vaccine’s side effects – which have only appeared in very specific cases – has prompted mistrust among some citizens.

However, to achieve its target of 70-80 % immunisation before next summer, the Iberian country needs to speed-up vaccination rates, which is currently low except in places such as the Asturias region (north).

Although the new WhatsApp channel is intended to help citizens, the Spanish government is also planning to launch a second channel specifically for health personnel, to solve technical issues they may encounter during their daily vaccine-related work.

Josep Lobera, a sociologist working for the Spanish government in the COVID-19 communication strategy, said it is essential not to stigmatise people who still have doubts about the vaccines.

“By listening to them, you legitimise that they may have doubts and you offer quality, contrasted information from authorised sources” he stressed, as quoted by El País.

[Edited by Daniel Eck and Frédéric Simon]

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