Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa announced on Thursday that Spain will receive 600,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical company Moderna, which was granted conditional marketing authorization by the European Commission on Wednesday.
“The forecast we have based on the information from the company is that we will begin to receive the first doses of this vaccine in seven to 10 days’ time,” said Illa at a public event in Catalonia. The shipments will be spaced out over a six-week period.
According to Illa, the vaccine will be stored at the Health Ministry’s central storage center and from there be distributed to the regions. “We have already informed the coordination teams of the regions,” said Illa. The health minister explained that the Moderna vaccine requires two shots, meaning that the 600,000 doses will immunize 300,000 people.
The Moderna vaccine is the second coronavirus vaccine to be approved by the European Medicines Agency and authorized by the European Commission, after the vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical Pfizer and German laboratory BioNTech was given the green light at the end of 2020. “It is very positive news,” said Illa, who added that the arrival of a second vaccine will “not change” Spain’s vaccination plan.
Following agreements between the European Union and six pharmaceutical companies (AstraZeneca, Sanofi-GSK, Janssen, BioNTech-Pfizer, CureVac and Moderna), Spain is slated to receive 140 million doses of coronavirus vaccines. Because most of these are double-dose, it will be enough for 80 million people, almost twice the population of Spain. The excess doses are meant as a reserve, to encourage production, and to help developing countries.
With respect to the immunization drive, which has been slow to roll out in some regions, Illa was positive: “We are reaching a steady pace. Now we are going to receive new doses of the Pfizer vaccine, we are going to administer the Moderna vaccine and there are others that are being reviewed by the European Medicines Agency, so we believe that by summer we will be able to achieve the very significant figure of 70% of the population vaccinated.”
With respect to the uneven speed of the vaccine rollout, Illa did not make any comment, arguing the government is “not going to rank” the regions. Asturias has administered 100% of the vaccines it received in the first shipment, and is now at 54% following a second delivery this week. But in Madrid the figure is currently 5.4% and in Cantabria it is 5.1%. The health minister said he believed regional authorities were administering the vaccine as quickly as possible and following the criteria of “safety and efficiency.” “This is a long-distance race, not a sprint, and the object is to carry out a long-distance race that is going to last for months,” said Illa.
Concerns about delayed rollout
Vaccinating on public holidays and on the weekends is considered one of the main reasons why some regions have been able to roll out the vaccine faster than others. Despite this, on Wednesday, which was a public holiday for King’s Day, seven regions decided not to administer the vaccine: Galicia, Basque Country, Aragón, Extremadura, La Rioja, the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.
Catalonia – which has been criticized for its slow process – was one of the regions that proceeded with the vaccination drive on Wednesday, administering more than 10,000 doses in 24 hours. In other words, the region administered the same number of vaccines on Wednesday as it had in the past week. In Madrid, which has promised to speed up the rollout, only the residents of one senior home were vaccinated.
Indeed the delays in Madrid prompted Madrid’s Satse Nursing Union on Thursday to complain about the “lack of planning” in the region. According to the union, “not even 5% of the population” in the priority groups have been vaccinated.
“Nurses who have not been trained are doing the job, nursing staff numbers continue to be low and for this reason, it is nearly impossible to meet the vaccination plans announced by the regional government,” the union said in a statement.
With reporting by Emilio de Benito.
English version by Melissa Kitson.