Spain will not administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 65. That was the decision made on Thursday by the public health committee of Spain’s National Healthcare System, made up of health experts from the central and regional governments. The commission, however, has still not decided whether the age limit for this vaccine should be lowered even further to 55. Sources present at Thursday’s meeting said the issue will be discussed again on Friday.
At least seven European countries have decided to only use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine with under-65s, as a minimum, given that there is not yet sufficient evidence of its efficiency for the older age group. Germany has set the limit at 65, Poland has restricted the use of the vaccine to the under-60s, while Italy has put the threshold at 55. 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.
In the second wave of the pandemic, over-80s represented 66.5% of all official Covid-19 deaths in Spain, despite making up just 6% of the population
The decision means that Spain will need to revise its vaccination plan and add a new priority group to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, of which 1.8 million doses are set to arrive this month. Phase 1 of the immunization drive, which is currently underway, targets residents and employees of care homes, followed by frontline health workers, other healthcare personnel, and people with need for daily assistance who are not living in a care facility. But many social service residents are over the age of 65, meaning they will not be able to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. After Phase 1, 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.
The Health Ministry announced on Friday that this Covid vaccine will go to healthcare personnel who are not frontline workers and do not work at a care home or directly with Covid patients. After this group, the vaccine will be administered to other vulnerable groups (below the age of 65 of 55, depending on the commission’s decision) and other essential workers.
The decision to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been supported by Spain’s medical associations, which agree the treatment should be reserved for younger age groups until it has proven its efficiency among seniors.
“Between now and when there is more scientific evidence from the studies that are still underway into the vaccine, the correct thing to do is to continue using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine for this age range [over-65s],” said José Gutiérrez, a vaccines expert at the Spanish Geriatrics Society.
But in the United Kingdom, experts argue that the possibility of saving lives is greater than the risk of the vaccine not being completely effective, particularly given the shortage of treatments. “A perfectly acceptable vision is that we know the vaccine is safe in older ages, that the evidence of an antibody response strongly suggests that it will provide protection, and for that reason, it is reasonable to us to suppose that it will,” said Martin McKee, a professor from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “If it were a country where there are many other vaccines, like the one from Pfizer and BioNTech, then that could justify the administration of this vaccine to older people and the AstraZeneca vaccine to younger people.”
In Spain, more than 1,300 people over the age of 80 died every week in January due to Covid-19, according to data from the Carlos III Health Institute. Although the number of contagions has fallen slightly in February, the epidemic in the country remains at “extreme” levels. In the second wave of the pandemic, over-80s represented 66.5% of all official Covid deaths in Spain, despite making up just 6% of the population (2.8 million people).
English version by Melissa Kitson.