On the morning of his birthday, the head of Epidemiology of the Canary Health Service has spent it, uninterruptedly until lunchtime, five radios, two televisions and elDiario.es. The day before he was almost hoarse, but Amós García-Rojas does not faint. As president of the Spanish Vaccination Association and member of the Vaccine Conference, the body that has defined the vaccination strategy against COVID-19, he has become a relevant voice at the national level, breaking the barrier of scientific distance .
Amós García Rojas, vaccinologist: “There is no scientific evidence to justify the third dose”
You have commented that you have spent two years with practically no vacation. What and how much of your life have you given to this pandemic?
I have only taken five days because I have been defeated. See if I have given my life, that I would have to be retired at this time. I did not do it because the pandemic was in full swing and it seemed irresponsible to me. Until it is overcome, I do not think it is good for people to be dispensed with.
What is it like to go from being an anonymous scientist to being relevant in the public space?
I have no idea how it could have happened. I have continued in the workplace all my life but perhaps the leap was when I decided to get on Twitter, because it seemed essential to transfer a message to a public that was puzzled by what was passing a message that was most appropriate to reality.
The leap from anonymity to such a strong exhibition space has surprised me a lot because I am a quiet man, who lives in a geographical area that is also quiet as the Canary Islands. On Twitter I have felt loved by many people, but I have also suffered insults and I am not used to it. That these insults are accompanied by death threats, as I have unfortunately received by email, or that walking down a central street in Las Palmas they call me “murderer” and “son of a bitch”, are things that have left me terrified. But we must move forward.
His messages on Twitter always begin by saying “calm, patience and prudence.”
That was what led me to start life in the networks. I saw situations that terrified me, such as the racist outbreaks that arose at the beginning of the pandemic in relation to citizens of Chinese origin. I started with those words because I wanted to convey that we were not facing the end of the world. Calm because this is solved. Patience because it is not solved in two days. Prudence because it is the key element that will allow us to move forward.
This has been a painful summer for you in the face of those verbal attacks you were telling me about. What would be your advice on how to react, how to deal with it, how to respond to these people?
Sometimes I don’t even have to answer because all the people who appreciate me through the networks do. It is like a defensive barrier of anonymous citizens that excites me. But when faced with these things, what you have to do is not respond. There are people who say what you say, they will say that you have said it wrong, for reasons of personal or ideological rejection. What bothers them is the defense of rationality. Rationality versus irrationality is an impossible debate in which we must never fall because you cannot change the criteria of a person who does not accept science. They are within the framework of opinions and they will never enter that of reasons. I entered those debates once and the next day I realized that it was a mistake. I have managed not to affect me.
The Spanish Association of Vaccination does not seek to influence the decision-making to be made by the public administration
One of your occupations is the presidency of the Spanish Association of Vaccination, what does it require of you?
We understand that decision-making in vaccination policy has to be made by the administration. If you consider it appropriate to ask for advice, we will be there, but I understand that a scientific society should never do anything other than that.
Are you not looking for an association like this also to influence?
No, we reject it completely. We are never going to make vaccine recommendations regardless of what the public sector decides because that creates confusion for people. Although sometimes we think that other things can be done, we are never going to externalize it.
Another of his works is the representation of the Canary Islands in the Vaccine Conference. What does it consist of?
In the Vaccine Conference there are territorial representatives from the technical field, but also from institutions. It is a complex but very rich job. The reflection exercises and the documents that are made in the Presentation have a bestial quality. We prepare some documents, from a technical point of view, and we pass them on to the Public Health Commission, which is a field between technical and political, and they assume or not our reports. Normally they do, but they have not always given us the go-ahead. If the Commission approves them, it submits them to the Interterritorial Council of the National Health System, which is the one that decides, made up of the councilors and the minister.
It will take a lot of coordination work there.
Yes. Public health competencies in this country are in the hands of the autonomous communities and each one could establish what is appropriate, but in the context of a pandemic it would be absolute nonsense. This coordination exercise in the pandemic is carried out by the Vaccine Conference, which has been expanded with a working group that has been joined by people who are not in the Conference, such as the president of the Bioethics Committee, sociologists or representatives of societies. scientific.
How is your daily routine to be informed of the evolution of the pandemic?
I leave home early and usually arrive at my office at a quarter to eight. The first thing I do is see how the indicators are and how vaccination coverage is going, which takes me an hour and a half. Then I attend to the issues that arise throughout the day. Among them, I spend a lot of time attending to the media. But it seems to me that it is time saved, information is key in a pandemic context, that is why I never say no to the media because citizens need to receive messages in relation to the pandemic.
Not always the Public Health Commission has given us the go-ahead to what we propose in the Vaccine Presentation
How has your work been in previous epidemics?
The typical one of an epidemiologist who did not tire of demanding more resources because Public Health is one of the most weakened structures within the health system. Working in public health means seeing the contradictions that the social system has, that makes you sensitive to certain problems that always end up affecting them. I had very intense work moments when dealing with outbreaks or vaccination strategies, but it has nothing to do with what we have now.
A few months ago, epidemiologists told us “we are not pythons” because we always wanted to know what the future would bring. I think we were more concerned with explaining the future than explaining the present.
And I always said that in the context of a pandemic what needs to be explained is the present, which is what allows us to understand what may happen in the future. We are not fortune tellers, we do not have a crystal ball that allows us to know what can happen in a week. To this I like to add that my name is Amos. Amos was a minor prophet, so I said that my ability to prophesy in my name has deteriorated over the years.
What are the peculiarities of working in epidemiology on some islands?
It is said that working in epidemiology is much easier on an island than on a continent, it makes sense because you have the most controlled population but in this case it is more complex because it is an island that supports visits from people from all countries of the world and with such a tremendous weight of those that, escaping from famine, they reach our shores exhausted. They often ask me if due to irregular immigration we can fear a rebound in measles and not, at all, because surely they have already passed the disease in their country of origin, in addition, the strongest arrive. On the other hand, I am concerned about the recreational migration, which are tourists, and many come from countries where there has been a drop in vaccination coverage with respect to the triple virus that is absolutely spectacular.
Music is fundamental in my life. It is very important to have a soundtrack and mine has been the rock and roll
What will you do when this crisis is over?
I will be going to all the rock and roll concerts that I can, that is my highest ambition.
You define yourself as an old rocker in your Twitter bio. In his office, he has posters of the Beatles, the Rolling, and the Who. Makes a radio show titled The blues inn and his son plays in a quite famous group like Cupid. What place does music occupy in your life?
It’s fundamental. When one begins to walk in life it is very important to have a soundtrack and mine has been that of rock and roll. I was fortunate that my father was a jazz fan, imagine a man from the Canary Islands who was fond of jazz in the 50s and 60s. My first album was given to me when I was seven years old, an EP by the group Los Pick Ups that it was called Disheveled. When I approved admission to High School, at the age of ten, the gift I requested was an LP and they gave me two: the Beatles for sale and the Dance with The Shadows, that was a very good instrumental group.
In your record collection, are EPs (7 ” size vinyl records that play at 45 RPM) from the 60s your fetish?
Yes, I have a pretty good collection of EPs, which had a golden age that ended when the single came out. I have many incunabula: the Kings, the Animals, the Beatles, Manfred Mann, the Rolling which is my flagship group… I am saddened by the death of Charlie Watts but I say to myself go ahead! Let’s keep up the rhythm!