Spain hopes to have 20 million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine by early next year, said Health Minister Salvador Illa on Tuesday. The two-dose treatment could immunize 10 million people in a country where the coronavirus has infected over a million and killed close to 39,000, according to official figures, although the real number is believed to be much higher.
The announcement comes after the pharmaceutical giant, which developed the vaccine in partnership with the German drugmaker BioNTech, said in a news release on Monday that the treatment was over 90% effective at preventing the disease in ongoing clinical trials. The news made world headlines and drove stock markets up, although data is still being collected and the company has not yet asked the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize the product.
At-risk groups first
“We’re going to be alert to the specific terms of the contract to be signed, but we figure that we could receive around 20 million doses from Pzifer,” said Illa in statements to the public broadcaster RTVE. “It is a two-dose vaccine, meaning that around 10 million people could be immunized” in Spain, which has a population of 47.3 milllion.
The minister also underscored that the vaccine will be free of charge, and distributed through the national healthcare system.
Regarding who will qualify to get immunized first, Illa said that a working group has been coordinating with central and regional authorities for months to determine these parameters. “The logical thing would be for the elderly and healthcare workers to be the first,” he said.
According to the health minister, several contracts are going to be signed this week and the next, including with Pfizer, to ensure a supply of vaccines. If all goes well, said Illa, the first doses could arrive by early 2021, and if things go “very, very well” it could even be at the end of this year.
According to Illa’s estimates, Spain could start a vaccination campaign in early January. “By approximately May, a sufficiently consequential number of the Spanish and European population could be vaccinated, because the vaccines are going to be equitably shared out among all members of the European Union,” he said.
Illa also underscored that vaccination will not be mandatory in any case. “The government is going to do what it has been doing all this time: explaining the truth to its citizens, and the truth is that vaccines save lives.” The minister also warned that the executive will be “very clear and forceful” against “people who tell lies and play with anti-science,” alluding to anti-vaxxers and coronavirus deniers.
“It is a promising and relevant step, but there is still a long way to go and we need to keep our guard up,” he warned, noting that the epidemiological situation in Spain “continues to be of great concern.”
According to Monday’s coronavirus report, the infection rate has risen again while the number of fatalities has reached a record high and is likely to keep doing so in the next few weeks even if the incidence rate falls again.
English version by Susana Urra.