As Spain’s vaccine campaign rolls on, the over-70s regain lost ground

A very-active generation has been waiting impatiently for its Covid-19 shots. Their turn was delayed by decisions over the use of AstraZeneca, but is now moving along at a swifter pace

Un anciano aguarda su turno para vacunarse en el Parque Tecnológico de Barcelona Activa
Over-70s await their vaccines in the Parque Tecnológico de Barcelona Activa last Wednesday.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

Antonio and María have been waiting for the call for months. When it finally came, they couldn’t contain the tears – a mix of happiness and emotions. “We are calling you from your healthcare center, you have an appointment for a vaccination on Thursday at 9.18am.” This septuagenarian married couple are among the 3.9 million Spaniards aged 70 to 79 who have been waiting impatiently for the coronavirus vaccination program to get to them, as the process progressed among people who were older than them but also younger citizens too. Their age group is now making up for lost ground. By Friday, 37.9% of 70- to 79-year-olds had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and for the first time overtook the 60-69 age group, who are being given the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will tomorrow make a decision on what to do with the Janssen vaccine. Use of the medication has been suspended while research is carried out on cases of rare blood clots associated with its use. It was due to be used for the 70-79 age group in Spain. Something similar happened with AstraZeneca, the use of which has been suspended in a number of countries, with changes to the age range in Spain, for example, based on the scientific evidence emerging from its use. Even if the one-shot Janssen vaccine were to remain suspended in the European Union, however, the over-80s and the over-70s could be completely inoculated in Spain during the second half of May. The Spanish government is aiming to have 70% of the adult population of Spain vaccinated by the end of the summer.

Antonia García, 79, is one of the 1.8 million people in his age group to have already received the vaccine. He is euphoric

The decisions taken by the Spanish health authorities, in particular the use of AstraZeneca for the 60-69 age group, saw the 70-79 group pushed to the back of the line. The majority of European countries decided at the beginning of March to use AstraZeneca for the over-60s in order to speed up the protection of the most vulnerable groups in society, but Spain opted to set the maximum age limit at 69, despite scientific testing clearly showing that this vaccine protects the elderly against hospitalization and death due to Covid-19 as well as the other two being used for seniors, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The decision set back the immunization of septuagenarians by a month, but the process is now moving along at a good speed.

Antonia García, 79, is one of the 1.8 million people in his age group to have already received the vaccine. He is euphoric. Last Wednesday, he was waiting impatiently to access one of the installations that has been set up for vaccinations in the Parc Tecnologic de Barcelona Activa, in the Catalan capital. Since last week, an immunization point for the over-70s has been in place there for four primary healthcare centers in the area.

Antonia García gets her vaccine.
Antonia García gets her vaccine.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

Antonia pulls up her sleeve and in barely a few seconds a nurse injects her arm and it’s all over: the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is now in her body. In two days’ time, it will be her husband’s turn. “I’m very happy,” she says with dewy eyes. “It’s been very tough. My grandchildren are my life and although my children live close by they haven’t come around at all. All they do is come up the elevator and my husband and I say hello to them from the door of our house with our masks on. But I haven’t been able to touch them.” Not seeing Bruna, 16, or Víctor and Vera, 13, has been “the most difficult thing,” she explains. “The worst thing for me has been not having them over for lunch,” she adds with sadness.

She also explains that she misses her friends, going out on the street and travel. Because of the pandemic, she had to cancel two trips last year – one to Benidorm and another within Catalonia.

While there is no clear line separating the over-70s and the over-80s, in general, the former group is somewhat more active, better qualified and was better integrated in the workplace – in particular in the case of women, explains Raymond Torres from think-tank Funcas. “This group of people from 70 to 79, who in general have not been retired for long, tend to have greater economic activity, and they deal with new technology better,” he explains, also pointing out that they have lost more day-to-day activities than older people during the pandemic. “It was normal to see people from this age range at conferences and cultural activities because in general they are very independent and have a lot of free time,” he adds.

Rosa González after her vaccination in Barcelona.
Rosa González after her vaccination in Barcelona.MASSIMILIANO MINOCRI

Rejection of Covid-19 vaccines among this group is proving to be scant. Vicente Rodríguez, who researches aging at the CSIC public research institute, says that “they are wanting to get vaccinated, they are calling for it, and will wait in line for hours if they hear there are doses left over in any place.” The expert indicates that there is not much specific scientific literature about how seniors have dealt with this crisis. “From international writing, it is clear that feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety have increased among those who were already prone to them,” he adds.

This is not the case of Rosa González, who is 78. This Galician lives with her niece in Barcelona, and she says that the confinement did not affect her. “I’m not very anxious and I have psyched myself up,” she explains. “I’ve only gone out shopping and to the doctor. But I have stopped seeing the friends that I’ve got here in Barcelona.” She was very happy to get her vaccine this week. “We have to do whatever it takes to bring an end to this plague,” she adds.

González had no doubts about getting the vaccine, and is not interested in the bad press or conspiracy theories that have surrounded the medication. “As soon as I could, I was going to get it,” she says. “For me. These things that people say, that [the vaccines are bad]… Come on, why would anyone want to kill me?”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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