The Covid-19 vaccination drive in Spain is speeding ahead. The regions – which are in charge of the vaccine rollout as well as containing the pandemic in their territories – are making a huge effort to deploy resources and set up mass vaccination sites to accelerate the immunization drive.
A total of 100% of the over-80s have received the first dose and 78% have received the two shots needed for full protection in the case of the Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines. Some 67% of people in the 70-79 age group have also received at least one dose. In the last week, more than 400,000 doses were administered a day, which has pushed up the number of people aged 60-69 who have been vaccinated. Nearly half of this age group – 47% – has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine – a total of 2.5 million people.
The speed of the campaign is expected to accelerate further with the arrival of new doses. Spain received 188,000 Moderna doses and 103,000 AstraZeneca shots this week, and 1.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine are expected to be delivered every week starting in May.
The regions are administering nearly all the vaccines that arrive. At some vaccination sites, such as La Farga hospital in Llobregat, one dose is injected every two minutes. “Everything that arrives is being used. There is not one region where the percentage of doses injected out of the total received is less than 89%,” says Julián Domínguez, an epidemiologist from the Spanish Society of Preventive Medicine, Public Health and Hygiene (Sempsph). According to a report from the Spanish Health Ministry, released on Monday, most of Spain’s 17 regions have administered more than 90% of doses delivered. Since the vaccination drive kicked off at the end of December, more than 11 million people – 23.2% of the population – have received at least one dose, while four million – 8.5% of the population – have received the two shots needed for full protection.
“The speed of the vaccination drive is finally matching the objective needs in the context of a pandemic. The health system has worked strongly, professionals have been the backbone and we only needed the stimulus, which were the vaccines,” says Amós García, the president of the Spanish Vaccinology Association. After a few shaky months due to delays in shipments and health scares, the vaccination drive is gathering pace. The campaign has been given a jump start by the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) decision to give the green light to the one-dose Janssen vaccine, whose use was temporarily suspended after several cases of rare blood clots were detected in the United States. Although the EMA found a possible link between the vaccine and the blood clots, it concluded that the benefits of the medication outweighed its risks.
The impact of the vaccination drive and its speed is best seen in the immunization figures of Spain’s older age groups. In senior homes – which were devastated in the first waves of the pandemic – the number of cases and deaths has fallen to a record low, with just 55 infections and seven fatalities recorded in the last seven days. What’s more, in the third wave of the pandemic, the average age of Covid-19 patients in intensive care has fallen from 63 to 60, and the average age of cases has also dropped from 42 to 40.
But health experts say it is still too soon to ease restrictions. “This epidemiological curve is much smaller, half of what we had in November [during the second wave], but we also have young people in intensive care units and they are also dying,” warns Domínguez. “Not in the same proportion but they are also dying and that is awful.”
The latest Health Ministry report on the epidemiological situation, released on Tuesday, recorded 7,665 new coronavirus cases and added 117 deaths to the official toll. The 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants fell three points and now stands at 232. But while the national incidence rate in Spain has been stable for a few days, it is on the rise in several regions. The data point rose in Madrid, from 393 to 395 cases; La Rioja, from 271 to 276 cases; Aragón, from 266 to 273, and in the Basque Country it jumped six points and is now at 529.
“Until we have 50% or 60% of the population vaccinated, we have to continue with the measures,” says Domínguez. “I’m worried that there will be increased mobility and social activity over the summer and, given there will be more security with the vaccines, the sense of danger will fall and the curve will rise again.”
Although experts say Spain is still far from reaching herd immunity, the country is close to reaching the government’s goal of having five million people vaccinated with both doses by the end of the first week of May. For this goal to be reached, one million more doses need to be administered. Given that last week, the number of people with both shots rose by more than 568,000, if there are no new setbacks, the five-million target will be met by next week.
English version by Melissa Kitson.