As part of our efforts to monitor access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in Europe, we’re speaking with national-level advocates about the situation in their countries. This interview was conducted in November 2021 with Meri Korniloff, Programme Coordinator at Physicians for Social Responsibility in Helsinki, to discuss the situation in Finland. It is not meant to offer an exhaustive picture of the legal and practical context in Finland. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have information you’d like to share, and follow our Twitter page @PICUM_post to get more recent updates
What does the Finnish vaccination strategy say about undocumented migrants?
The Finnish vaccination strategy does not specifically mention undocumented migrants. But the Ministry of Health addressed a recommendation to the municipalities to grant access to the vaccination to people whose residence is not officially registered in a given municipality, which includes undocumented people. At Physicians for Social Responsibility, we advocated at the local level to ensure meaningful implementation of this recommendation.
Can undocumented people access mainstream vaccination points?
They can, but it depends on the booking system. Booking online requires official identification, which is largely not available for an undocumented person in Finland. As a result, it is extremely difficult for undocumented migrants to access the mainstream online booking system. It is possible to book by phone, but then contact with the operator can be challenging if the patient doesn’t speak Finnish, Swedish or English and doesn’t know the health care system.
Are there other possible avenues?
Yes, there are two alternative avenues for undocumented migrants to access the vaccine.
The first one is drop-in vaccination points, where people can go and get their vaccine without the need to book an appointment. These vaccination points were opened at a later stage of the national vaccination strategy. People who go to these drop–in points can provide a temporary health number, which is given to undocumented patients by health care providers themselves at the first point of contact. Someone could also go to a drop-in centre without such a temporary health number and be able to get one on the spot. It’s still unclear if someone without any form of identification could be vaccinated at these drop-in points.
The second vaccination avenue is mobile teams composed of public health care professionals who administer the vaccines at sites operated by NGOs on specific dates. This was the result of significant cooperation between the various bodies involved. In Helsinki, for instance, the city administration organised and deployed mobile units to two specific sites where undocumented migrants are known to live; social workers informed them about this vaccination route and made sure people would come on a certain date and time; NGOs reached out to undocumented migrants too, and accompanied people through the vaccination process, including by allaying fears about the vaccines.
What about immigration risks as a result of people getting their vaccines?
In Finland, there is a strict firewall in place, which separates health care and immigration enforcement. Health care professionals are bound by strict confidentiality rules and can be trusted to not share personal data for purposes not related to health care.
Are there practical barriers for undocumented people to access vaccines?
There are three main practical barriers that hinder access to vaccines.
First, lack of information: people living in big cities, and who are in contact with NGOs, are generally informed about the various avenues to get the vaccines and about their rights. But not all undocumented migrants have social networks or access to information. For example, those who live in other parts of Finland, especially in small towns, may not have access to such information.
Second, there continue to be fears around contacts with public authorities, including the health care system, and around the vaccination itself.
Third, administrative barriers where there are no official guidelines for health care professionals about health care entitlements.
In Helsinki, undocumented people have largely good access to the vaccines because the system already includes undocumented patients and because there are many NGOs spreading the information about entitlements to the community.
Let’s talk about COVID-19 certificates. Are they required to access places and services? Are they accessible to undocumented people?
In Finland, several restrictions have been introduced with regards to accessing places without a COVID-19 certificate, especially in response to the spread of the Omicron variant. The situation keeps changing rapidly.
It is impossible for undocumented migrants to obtain an electronic certificate from a dedicated website. But they can get a paper certificate after their vaccination at the vaccination point.
Cover image: MISTERVLAD – Adobe Stock