Vaccinating Europe’s Undocumented: A Policy Scorecard

This blog post was authored by Francesca Pierigh, project coordinator of Vaccinating Europe’s Undocumented: A Policy Scorecard, at Lighthouse Reports.

Since March 2021, investigative nonprofit newsroom Lighthouse Reports has been working with PICUM to assess European vaccination policies and strategies, in terms of how inclusive they are of undocumented people. We embarked on a joint data journalism project to try and answer one apparently simple question: are undocumented people included in the vaccination efforts of European governments?

The answer is anything but straightforward. Policies are for the most part vague and open to interpretation. This can be a purposeful means of avoiding a charged political debate while still providing for this population, or it can be an exclusionary tactic to deny undocumented people access to the vaccines.

We collected all publicly available documentation related to the vaccination programmes (strategies, implementation plans, policies, but also statements from public health and national authorities) and assessed it through a questionnaire developed collaboratively by PICUM and Lighthouse Reports.

All answers we gathered were then cleaned, checked and validated by the team at Lighthouse Reports, where a data scientist turned them into scores. The results are 18 national Scorecards, one for each country we analysed.

The Scorecard is divided into five sections, each one attempting to assess a different aspect of vaccination policies and access for the undocumented:

  • Policy Transparency evaluates government efforts to make national vaccine policies available to the public;
  • Access for the Undocumented assesses whether language is inclusive or exclusionary and whether some of the practical barriers have been addressed;
  • Identification and Residency Requirements identifies which requirements are needed to access the vaccines;
  • Access for the Marginalised tries to understand how a country is accommodating the needs of other marginalized groups within its borders, which may or may not include undocumented people;
  • Privacy Guarantees evaluates policies related to the collection, processing and sharing of data between health and other authorities.

The overall results, and each country’s results, can be consulted at this link, where more information on the project and its methodology is also available. Across the 18 countries in the sample, the best performers are the United Kingdom and Portugal. They are the only ones which received positive scores in all categories, earning the label “Open and Accessible”. At the other end of the scale are the “Closed Door” countries: Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland, all of which are explicitly exclusionary.

Map from Lighthouse Reports

An important note here: the Scorecard only assesses written policies, documents and materials gathered online. That means that there may be a gap between policies and practices. We know, and have been documenting, that this is the case in many countries, even in the United Kingdom, which, despite scoring highest, has made trust in authorities very difficult for undocumented people with years of the “hostile environment”.

To provide a balance to the Scorecard results, many PICUM members in the countries analysed have been contacted and asked for their expert, on-the-ground opinions. Their quotes accompany the country results, where they are available, and balance the assessment of written policies. A number of case studies will also be published across European media outlets, and they will be linked from this page.

Some of the challenges undocumented people face in accessing the COVID-19 vaccines also reflect broader barriers they have faced for years in accessing health care. Unclear policies, vague languages, lack of national directives for how to include the undocumented are all too common in the lives of those who live among us, but are uncounted and often left out of our health and social care systems. At the same time, the development of some good practices is a promising sign, and, while they may apply only to vaccine access, there are hopes – and opportunities for civil society to advocate – to expand them to other health care.

Access to health care is a human right and a person’s residence status should not determine whether this right is granted or not. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities across the board, including in health care. It has also shown examples of how governments and civil society can work together to ensure that health care is accessible for everyone. It can be a turning point in recognising that we all benefit from genuinely inclusive, responsive health systems, and in states’ efforts to make this a reality for undocumented people too.

Cover Photo: Kate Trifo – Unsplash