Spain’s coronavirus vaccine drive set to start on December 27

Health Minister Salvador Illa says all regions will receive doses so they can begin immunizing priority groups

Workers moving boxes containing Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
Workers moving boxes containing Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.Morry Gash (AP)

Spain will begin to administer the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on December 27, said Health Minister Salvador Illa on Friday. Immunizations will start taking place across all regions, which will receive enough doses to start vaccinating the top priority groups.

“The doses will reach all the regions on Saturday the 26th or Sunday the 27th, in coordination with Europe, which will distribute them on the 26th,” said Illa. “All regions will receive the amount allotted to them equitably so they can begin their vaccination process.”

It is expected that 60% of Spain’s population of 47 million will be vaccinated by August

Illa said he did not know how many doses Spain will receive. “The government has provided all the information at its disposal. We will offer details when we have reliable information. We know we are due to receive a significant amount, but we still don’t know how many. We will receive doses on a weekly basis.”

Spain’s immunization drive was originally set to begin from January 4, but this date was brought forward after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Thursday that the vaccine could be rolled out earlier than anticipated. The vaccine candidate is set to be approved by the European Medicines Agency on December 21 and will be given the official green light by the European Commission on December 23 – even though this bureaucratic process usually takes 67 days.

Health Minister Salvador Illa at a press conference on Friday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa at a press conference on Friday.Rodrigo Jiménez (EFE)

The vaccine will be taken to 50 different points across Spain, whose location has not yet been revealed, and from there distributed to vaccination centers. The Interior Ministry will oversee the security measures needed to ensure the safe distribution of the vaccines.

The plan is for all of Spain’s 17 regions to begin the immunization drive at the same time starting with the first priority group: residents and staff of care homes, other healthcare workers and people with serious disabilities who are not in a care facility, for a total of around 2.5 million individuals. According to Health Ministry sources, the vaccine will not be distributed according to a region’s total population, but rather how many of their residents belong to the top priority group. In other words, if a region has a smaller population than another but a larger number of residents in senior homes, it will receive more vaccine doses.

According to the same Health Ministry sources, the problems with the logistics of the vaccine – which requires ultra-cold storage – have been resolved. The pharmaceutical company will be in charge of distributing the vaccine to each respective country, and from there, its delivery will be the job of state authorities.

All regions will receive the amount allotted to them equitably so they can begin their vaccination process
Health Minister Salvador Illa

The vaccine is delivered in two doses, with the second administered 21 days after the first. The first dose, however, does provide some level of protection from the virus. Most of Spain’s regions have already begun preparing ultra-cold freezers to store the treatment – Pfizer’s vaccine needs to be stored at about -75ºC, which is much colder than regular vaccines. Regional authorities have also started to train health workers to administer the vaccine, which will be available from Spain’s primary healthcare centers or, in certain cases, administered directly in the home of elderly recipients.

The ministry is hoping to complete the first phase of the immunization drive between January and March. Phase 2 is set to cover the April-to-June period, followed by Phase 3 between July and September. No decision has been made yet on the order of who will be vaccinated in these last two phases. The Health Ministry has, however, classified the population into 15 groups that will have access to the vaccine at different times. It is expected that 60% of Spain’s population of 47 million will be vaccinated by August. This, however, depends on the results of the clinical trials of the seven vaccines that have been bought by the European Commission. French pharmaceutical company Sanofi, for example, is set to begin another Phase 2 trial in February, which could mean their vaccine is approved later than August, as had been expected.

English version by Melissa Kitson.


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