Spain to eliminate upper age limit for essential workers in line for AstraZeneca vaccine

Among the general population, only adults aged 65 and under will be eligible, in a decision that must be ratified by health officials on Wednesday

Vaccination with AstraZeneca doses at Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid.
Vaccination with AstraZeneca doses at Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid.Olmo Calvo (EL PAÍS)

In Spain, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca will continue to be restricted to adults up to 65 years of age, with one new exception: essential workers above that age will also be eligible for the shots. The decision was made on Tuesday by the Public Health Committee, made up of central and regional health officials. For the general population, the limit of 65 years will continue to apply.

In practical terms, however, there are so few essential workers – mostly teachers and members of law enforcement, emergency services and the armed forces – who are over 65 years of age that there will be very little change on the ground.

The committee also agreed to administer the new Janssen vaccine to older adults, just as it is already being done with the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, said the Health Ministry. The Janssen vaccine – which only requires one shot – is expected to start reaching Spain in the second half of April. Health Minister Carolina Darias said that 5.5 million doses will arrive during the second quarter of the year.

The age limit

Spain was until now one of the few European countries to maintain an upper limit of 65 years for recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. A growing body of evidence about its safety and effectiveness among older adults had led other countries to lift this limit as well.

However, Germany on Tuesday announced that from now on it will only administer AstraZeneca vaccines to people 60 and older, following new reports of blood clots among younger recipients. France had already made a similar decision on March 19, when it reserved the vaccine for people over 55, and outside the European Union, Canada on Monday took the step as well.

Spain, along with other European countries, temporarily halted the use of AstraZeneca vaccines following several reports of thrombosis and deaths among recipients. Administration was resumed after the European Medicines Agency said that while it could neither establish nor rule out a causal link with very rare cases of blood clots related to thrombocytopenia – a condition characterized by abnormally low levels of platelets in the blood – the benefits of vaccination outweighed the risks.

Medical conditions

The committee has also decided that people with certain conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 will be vaccinated along with the 70-to-79 age group, whose turn will come after the 80-and-over group is done. This may not happen before mid-April in the best of cases.

The conditions that would make someone eligible for a shot at that time include organ transplants, dialysis treatment, cancer treatment with chemotherapy, HIV infection, primary immune deficiency and having Down syndrome.

These decisions still need to be ratified on Wednesday at a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System, which brings together central and regional health officials.

With additional reporting by Elena G. Sevillano in Berlin.

English version by Susana Urra.

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