There I was in a frutería in a town in Catalonia, waiting behind others queuing at the till to pay for a few things. When it was finally my turn, a lady who’d been standing too close for comfort behind me, suddenly manouevred herself in front. I said something polite about there being a queue and that I was next in line. If she’d apologised and said she was in a hurry, I would have probably said no hay problema, go ahead. But she didn’t. Instead, she said: ‘Yes, but I’ve got coins in my hand, ready to pay.’ I told her that I also had coins in my hand, and I showed her. Before we could get into an argument about how many coins we both had in our hands, her husband – who’d also been hovering and looked embarrassed – beckoned her to step back and take her place in the queue. I couldn’t stop myself from saying: ‘No, you go ahead … but it’s typical.’ She didn’t like the típico comment and refused to go ahead of me. In the end, someone else was served ahead of us both.
With coins in her hand, I’m sure this lady would have managed to get a jab of the Covid-19 vaccine by now, definitely before you or me. If your friend’s uncle’s second cousin’s brother is aged over 80 and lives in a care home, and if you once cycled past that care home when it was being built, about 10 years ago, then you could probably use that in Spain as an excuse to jump the queue and get a Covid-19 vaccination ahead of everyone else. Especially if you have coins in your hand.
I know that vaccine queue jumpers aren’t just in Spain. In the UK, the Home Secretary Priti Patel called queue jumpers ‘morally reprehensible’ last week, after an IT loophole had enabled some people in East London who were not on any priority list to secure jabs. Local government officials in Austria have also been accused of jumping the queue, after the 65-year-old mayor of the town of Feldkirch received a first jab at a care home, even though he wasn’t a priority. Wolfgang Matt said he had merely waited in line in case there was a ‘leftover dose’ once everyone else had been injected. ‘I wouldn’t throw out stale bread either but use it to make toast,’ he told the Austrian public broadcaster.
Cricket Australia recently requested to have its Test stars vaccinated before the tour of South Africa as part of the first rollout of the vaccine in Australia. That was until the chairman of the Australian Cricketers’ Association expressed his personal view that it would be ‘morally indefensible’ for sportsmen to be given priority access ahead of higher risk groups.
In Spain, top government and other officials haven’t been granted preferential access to the vaccine – unlike in some other countries where they’ve been among the first to get the jab, to encourage members of the public to follow suit. So the queue jumping and ‘pushing in’ was always going to happen in Spain, wasn’t it? I mean, if Joe Biden (78), Arnold Schwarzenegger (73), Sir David Attenborough (94), Sir Ian McKellen (81), The Queen (94) and Prince Philip (99) have all had a jab, then the 40-year-old mayor of a village in Valencia should also be first in line, no? Er, no.
Regardless of what other countries are doing, in Spain the population has been divided up into 15 different groups in order of priority to receive the vaccine, with the first doses administered to those in residential care homes and their health workers. Next in line are 80-year-olds (not resident in care homes), people with serious disabilities, and all other health workers. Then, I believe, it will be the over 70 age group.
In Spain, however, we’ve had politicians, local mayors, military officials (and ‘allegedly’ even some of their family members), as well as other well-connected opportunists, all using their ‘elitist authority’ to jump the queue. Some have used the Austrian ‘leftover dose’ argument and others have simply claimed that they should have been on the priority lists in the first place … a sort of ‘do you know who I am?’ argument. It has so far resulted in the resignation of the Murcia region’s health chief, as well as Spain’s Chief of Defence Staff, a top general for ‘allegedly’ jumping the queue. Other resignations are sure to follow.
Okay, there’s an argument to be had about what to do with ‘leftover doses’, but ranging from ‘morally reprehensible’ to ‘morally indefensible’, vaccine queue jumping is just wrong. And even more so when delivery delays have forced some regions in Spain to stop new inoculations and ensure people can receive their second jabs on time.
Anyone who lives in Spain (especially a guiri) has lost their place in a queue at some point to someone else (invariably a native). This is often because there isn’t even a queue. The last person to arrive simply asks who was the last person before them – often confusing for many guiris. On a final note, there’s something about queues in Spain that has always irritated or fascinated me. The pushing in with the coins-in-the-hand obviously irritates. But what fascinates me is how many locals will talk for hours at the counter to the butcher or fishmonger, totally oblivious to you standing in the queue behind them. Once they’re at the front of a queue, no-one and nothing else matters at all.
Tim Parfitt is the editor of Spain in English and the author of ‘A Load of Bull, An Englishman’s Adventures in Madrid’. This article also appears on his regular blog.
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I am 81 and living in El Verger for 15 years. I have just heard about the majors of both El Verger and Els Poblets having the vaccine. I wonder how all the people in our town feel about this. Surely the Health Centre had a list of patients they could phone to come in immediately if vaccine was left over, and not used! I personally would have gone immediately as would many others had we been called.