Madrid’s vaccination plan for teachers and over-80s mired in confusion

Healthcare centers are facing a frenetic countdown to begin inoculating 130,000 people, with the regional government announcing the drive just 48 hours before its launch

Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso (l) attending the vaccination campaign at Zendal hospital.
Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso (l) attending the vaccination campaign at Zendal hospital.Fernando Villar (EFE)
Juan José Mateo

Healthcare centers in Madrid are facing a frenetic countdown to begin vaccinating 130,000 people aged over 80. This next phase of the ongoing Covid-19 inoculation program is due to start on Thursday, but professionals from the sector who will have to administer the injections did not get any details of the operation until yesterday. The situation was mired in confusion on Monday thanks to contradictory statements made by the regional government, which first stated that the campaign would begin next week before rectifying and setting the start date for tomorrow. Workers from the sector voiced their complaints on Tuesday about the lack of planning.

Currently in Spain, the regional governments are in charge not just of the coronavirus restrictions that are in place to keep the virus from spreading, but also of the vaccination program. Working in coordination with the central Health Ministry, each region is ultimately responsible for the campaign in their territory.

The Madrid regional government is run by a coalition of the conservative Popular Party (PP), supported by center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and propped up by far-right Vox. The administration, led by regional premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the PP, has often been at the center of controversy since the health crisis began, not least for its open conflict with the central government, which is led by the Socialist Party (PSOE) in coalition with junior partner Unidas Podemos.

The Madrid region’s vaccination plan is a complete disaster
Julián Ezquerra, general secretary of the AMYTS doctors’ association

The latest incident was sparked on Monday morning after Ignacio Aguado, a politician from Ciudadanos who serves as deputy regional premier in Madrid, announced that the vaccination of over-80s who do not live in care homes would begin next week and would take place in hospitals. Hours later, a tweet from the deputy public health chief, Antonio Zapatero, contradicted that statement and set the start date for Thursday February 25, adding that the injections would be administered in primary healthcare centers.

As a result, medical staff had a frenetic day of activity on Tuesday, as a 48-hour countdown began to organize the campaign, which will involve administering 130,000 doses of the vaccine to the over-80s – 50,000 between tomorrow and Monday, and 80,000 over the rest of next week.

“It’s impossible to understand anything,” complained Víctor Jiménez, the vice-president of the Madrid Nursing Association (AME). “Things are changing every moment, every minute, this is a merry-go-round.” He also complained that the healthcare centers do not know when they will receive the vaccines, and that many locations lack the one-milliliter syringes required to get the full six doses out of each vial.

“The nurses are prepared to make an extra effort because this is an investment in the future, so that seniors can improve their health,” he continued. “And if we have to put some activity to the side on a temporary basis, such as follow-up of chronic patients, we’ll accept that so that we can lower the incidence of the coronavirus. But we can’t have this continuous improvisation.”

Madrid deputy premier Ignacio Aguado (l) and Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso.
Madrid deputy premier Ignacio Aguado (l) and Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso. Óscar J.Barroso (Europa Press)

Earlier in the week, the regional government conveyed the same information to workers’ representatives as it had to the 262 directors of Madrid’s healthcare centers: that in the coming weeks the over-80s will be given appointments in the afternoons for their vaccinations, that they can attend accompanied by a relative or carer, and that there will be a daily distribution of syringes and vaccines according to the appointments made in each center. But with healthcare professionals suddenly plunged into the task of making calls to set up all of those appointments, these explanations did not convince the unions in the sector. The CCOO labor union in Madrid, for example, complained about the “improvisation,” “lack of planning” and “contempt for professionals” that the regional government’s plan represents in their opinion.

The regional government also announced that thousands of teaching staff aged under 55 would also be vaccinated at the same time – Spain is opting not to use the AstraZeneca vaccine on the older population given doubts about its efficacy in that group, and as such has brought forward younger essential workers. But bringing together the most vulnerable age group to Covid-19 and another that is most exposed to the virus immediately set alarm bells ringing.

Despite this plan having been distributed by the regional government in a press release, the health department did a U-turn and confirmed to staff that the over-80s would be vaccinated in primary healthcare centers, while teachers would be called to the emergency services departments, according to documentation to which EL PAÍS has had access.

Healthcare centers are also waiting for confirmation of the list of adults with need for daily assistance who are not in care homes and their carers, who also need to be vaccinated at this stage. The government’s plan is for those who can, to attend a healthcare center, with the remainder receiving a visit at home by nursing staff. So far, there has been no confirmation of this part of the campaign from the authorities.

It’s impossible to understand anything. Things are changing every moment, every minute, this is a merry-go-round
Víctor Jiménez, vice-president of the Madrid Nursing Association

And all the while, the phones at the region’s healthcare centers continue to ring off the hook as patients seek confirmation about when they will get their jabs – confirmation that no one can give them for now.

“The Madrid region’s vaccination plan is a complete disaster,” complained Julián Ezquerra, the general secretary of the AMYTS doctors’ association. “There is a total lack of coordination and a lack of organization in the regional healthcare department, they don’t know what to do with the vaccines. Announcements are made without the professionals knowing anything about what’s going on. We can’t carry on like this. Things are being done very badly.”

According to the regional premier, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, mass vaccinations will get underway in Madrid from April onward, with venues such as the Wanda Metropolitano stadium, home to Atlético de Madrid soccer club, being used as a venue. The new Isabel Zendal hospital, built by the Madrid region to cope with the pandemic, and the Wizink Center concert arena, are also slated to be used as venues.

The regional health department believes that by then a new vaccine, manufactured by Janssen, will be available. This will speed up the process given that it is a single dose and is easier to store than others such as the Pfizer-BioNTech. The vaccine, however, is yet to receive the approval of the European authorities.

“We will have it by April, by this spring,” Díaz Ayuso responded on Tuesday when asked at a conference when mass vaccination would begin in the region. “The idea is to do it on a massive scale as soon as possible.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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