Judge orders incapacitated woman to get virus vaccine

Official in Spain overrules family objections

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A nurse prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for residents at DomusVi nursing home in Leganes, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. Spain's rate of infection has shot up to 435 cases per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks, prompting new restrictions as authorities try to bring vaccination up to speed. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

BARCELONA – A judge in northwest Spain has overruled a family's objections and decided to allow health authorities to administer a coronavirus vaccine to an incapacitated woman in a nursing home.

The case appears to be the first known instance of a court in Europe requiring someone to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The Spanish government repeatedly has stressed that shots would be voluntary, as have authorities in other European countries.

In a ruling seen by The Associated Press on Wednesday, the judge for the court in the autonomous northwest community of Galicia recently ruled in favor of a request by a nursing home to override the refusal of the elderly resident’s family and to proceed with giving her the vaccine.

The resident was deemed by the medical staff at the nursing home to have suffered a cognitive loss to the extent that she “was incapacitated to provide valid consent,” according to the ruling.

Judge Javier Fraga Mandián said the court had the legal obligation to intervene in order to protect the woman's health. He said his decision was not based on the welfare of other residents, but that the “existence of tens of thousands of deaths” from the virus in Spain provided what he saw as irrefutable evidence that not taking the vaccine was riskier than any possible side effects.

The company that runs the nursing home, DomusVi, told the AP through its public relations agency that out of all the homes it manages throughout Spain, this was the only case of a family not wanting to vaccinate a resident who had been deemed incapable of making personal health decisions.

DomusVi said that 98% of the 15,000 residents in its nursing homes in the country agreed to receive the vaccine. It said the remaining 2% refused to get vaccinated but unlike the woman are considered fit to make their own health decisions.

DomusVi said it sought the court's intervention in the interest of the health of all the workers and residents at the nursing home residents and workers at the Galicia facility.