CORONAVIRUS VACCINES

Spain’s chief of defense staff quits after jumping line for Covid-19 vaccine

A Civil Guard official was also sacked at the weekend after receiving the immunization, which was only meant to go to military healthcare staff and personnel being deployed abroad

Defense Minister Margarita Robles with General Miguel Ángel Villarroya in a file photo.
Defense Minister Margarita Robles with General Miguel Ángel Villarroya in a file photo.EDUARDO PARRA / EUROPA PRESS

Spain’s chief of the defense staff, General Miguel Ángel Villarroya, resigned on Saturday after news emerged that he and other military leaders under his command had received the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of their turn. The now-former head of the country’s military leadership sent a letter to the defense minister, Margarita Robles, in which he requested his own sacking (the equivalent of quitting for active members of the military) so as to avoid “damaging the image” of the armed forces. Robles accepted the request, which is due to be approved this week at a meeting of the Spanish Cabinet, sources from her department reported.

Also at the weekend, Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska opted to sack a lieutenant colonel from the Civil Guard who served as a liaison for the Operational Command Headquarters (CEMOPS) in Madrid after he received the vaccine ahead of any other personnel from the law-enforcement agency.

Spain’s coronavirus vaccination campaign began at the end of December, and is currently focussing on residents of senior homes, their carers, frontline healthcare workers and all adults with need for daily assistance even if they are not in residential care. Last week, however, a number of irregularities emerged, involving regional health officials, mayors from various parts of the country and retired healthcare workers, among others, all of whom had jumped the line to get the first of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The controversy has sparked a debate as to whether these people should receive their second dose so as not to waste the first, or if they should now be made to wait their turn according to the national vaccine rollout plan.

The incident marks the first time that a Spanish chief of the defense staff has resigned since the role was created in 1984

In his letter, General Villaroya defended the decision for him and his subordinates to receive the vaccine, on the basis it would “protect the integrity, continuity and efficiency of the armed forces’ chain of command.” He claimed that he had “never sought to take advantage of unjustifiable privileges.”

The Defense Ministry’s vaccination plan required vaccinations to be carried out first on military healthcare workers, followed by personnel who will be deployed on international missions. Only after that did the scheme include members of the military who occupy critical posts, ones that would be difficult to substitute.

Sources from the chief of the defense staff explained, however, that the military chiefs were vaccinated after the aforementioned groups, and that the generals had been given priority “given that they are the oldest.” General Villaroya is 63. The same sources argued that the vaccination process among the chiefs of the defense staff did not necessarily have to go at the same pace as in the rest of the armed forces or society as a whole.

But the news caused much unease among other members of the military and at the Defense Ministry itself, giving the impression that the generals were getting privileges and not the personnel who are the most exposed to contracting the virus.

The incident marks the first time that a Spanish chief of the defense staff has resigned since the role was created in 1984.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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