CORONAVIRUS

Spain is ruling out using the AstraZeneca vaccine on the over-80s

A decision is yet to be made as to whether it will be administered to the over-65s, in line with countries such as Germany, Italy and France

Health Minister Carolina Darias at a recent press conference.
Health Minister Carolina Darias at a recent press conference.Kiko Huesca / EFE

Spain’s plans for its Covid-19 vaccination campaign are shrouded by mystery. The confidentiality of the contracts that have been signed with the manufacturers means that the public is only receiving a trickle of information about the details of which vaccines will be arriving, in what quantities, and when.

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The new health minister, Carolina Darias, revealed on Wednesday that 1.8 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would arrive in February. She also announced that 2.7 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were due to be delivered in March. With these forecasts, the ministry believes it will be possible to achieve the objective that both Spain and the European Union have set: vaccinating 80% of the country’s over-80s by the end of next month. To meet this challenge, only the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will be used, as was decided on Wednesday at a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System (CISNS), which brings together the central Health Ministry and Spain’s regions, who are in charge of their own healthcare systems as well as managing the pandemic in their territories.

Seven European countries have decided to only use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine with under-65s

What is yet to be decided in Spain, however, is whether or not the AstraZeneca vaccine will be administered to the over-65s. The Public Health commission, which looked at the issue on Wednesday, will not be making a final decision on this issue until today. At least seven European countries have decided to only use this vaccine with under-65s, given that there is not yet sufficient evidence of its efficiency for the older age group. Despite this, in the United Kingdom the vaccine is being used among seniors given that clinical trials have shown it to generate antibodies against SARS-Cov-2.

It is likely that Spain will follow suit after this decision was taken by countries such as France, Italy and Germany, as was announced on Monday by Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES). “It is possible that in the European Union we will have the recommendation that Germany is making,” he said on that day, in reference to that country announcing that it would not use the vaccine for the over-65s. “This is prudent, but to decide this [the Spanish health authorities] will have to analyze the technical details of the vaccine.”

At the meeting on Thursday of the Public Health commission, the experts are likely to add a new priority group for vaccination. After Phase 1 – which is currently underway and involves seniors in residences, healthcare workers and all adults with need for daily assistance even if they are not in residential care – it will be the turn of the over-80s. But before this group begins their vaccinations, the AstraZeneca vaccines are likely to have arrived in Spain, and these will not be used for this age group, as the health minister made clear on Wednesday. It is more likely that they will be used on younger people with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, as France and the Netherlands will do, or for essential workers.

They can also use this drug to inoculate the health workers who are yet to have received their doses. The changes in the vaccination program were expected, given that it will have to be adapted to the characteristics of the vaccines that are being approved. “It’s a living document,” Darias stated.

Spain is aiming to vaccinate 80% of over-80s by the end of March

The minister also added that the vaccination plan in Spain is moving along at the expected speed. In this first quarter, the doses available were expected to be limited. In response to questions from journalists, she explained that “a good percentage of residences” have already been fully vaccinated but that there have been delays in such homes where there are active outbreaks. There is also a “good group” of health workers who have received a dose of the vaccine. Once this collective is vaccinated, the health authorities will move on to adults with need for daily assistance. This is likely to begin by the middle of February.

The number of vaccines that will arrive will increase each month, assuming that there are no supply problems. As well as those that have already been approved, there is likely to be a vaccine from Janssen, which has already completed its clinical trials. The European Medicines Agency is awaiting the documentation to be able to evaluate this vaccine and possibly approve its use. Although it is less effective than the others being administered – 66% compared to the 90% of Pfizer and Moderna – it only requires a single dose, meaning that the same logistics and quantity can be used to vaccinate double the population compared to the other vaccines.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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