Spain’s Covid-19 vaccination drive meets second major target of immunizing 10m people by first week of June

As the fall in transmission rates continues to slow, health authorities are rushing to vaccinate younger people, who play a key role in the spread of the coronavirus. Every region is now scheduling shots for the 40-49 age group

A nurse vaccinates Madrid‘s health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero at Puerta de Hierro hospital in Majadahonda.
A nurse vaccinates Madrid‘s health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero at Puerta de Hierro hospital in Majadahonda.Kiko Huesca (EFE)

Spain’s regions are now focusing on vaccinating the 40-49 age group against Covid-19 as the fall in transmission rates continues to slow. With the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants currently at 115, the regions are rushing to immunize younger people, who are at lower risk of developing a serious case of Covid-19 or dying from the disease, but play a key role in transmitting the virus due to their increased social activity.

As of today, all of Spain’s 17 regions are on their way to vaccinating the 40-49 age group against Covid-19. This demographic is receiving the BioNTech-Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which are both based on RNA messenger technology, as well as the medication from Janssen, which only requires one dose. Which of these vaccines is administered to people in this age group depends on the availability of the doses in each region, which are responsible for their own vaccination drives and for containing the pandemic in their territories. Madrid had been lagging behind the other regions, but on Tuesday began to send appointments out to the 40-49 age group and is due to begin administering shots to this segment on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the overall vaccination drive is continuing to gather pace. Last week, 5.1 million doses arrived in Spain – the largest shipment since the campaign began in late December – and of this figure, 3.1 million were administered. Indeed, the country on Friday met the central government’s second vaccination target: to have 10 million people fully vaccinated by the first week of June. The first goal was to have five million people fully vaccinated by the first week of May, an objective it surpassed. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 30 million shots have been administered and around 42% of the entire population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine (nearly 50% of the over-16s – see graph below).

“The vaccination drive is having a very important impact on the transmission of the disease,” said Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), on Monday. “The incidence rate is not excessively low, but in some groups, it has fallen a lot: the incidence in the over-60s has fallen far below the incidence recorded in younger groups.”

At this stage of the campaign, most vulnerable groups have already been immunized: all nursing home residents and over-80s are vaccinated; nearly all the 70-79 group are fully immunized; and 92% of 60- to 69-year-olds have received at least one dose, although only 22.5% are fully protected. This age group was given the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which requires a three-month interval between the first and second shot – the longest period of the two-dose vaccines.

Now that most at-risk groups have received protection, the regions are focusing on completing the vaccination of the 50-59 population – 76% have had at least one shot – and moving on to the 40-49s, which is the largest demographic. Some regions, such as Castilla-La Mancha and the Canary Islands, as well as the North African exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, have already started vaccinating this age group. Indeed in Ceuta, 65% of people aged between 40 and 49 have received at least one shot, and the city has been authorized by the Health Ministry to vaccinate the 30-39 age group, even though this population has not yet been included in the national vaccination strategy.

Madrid has made the slowest progress of all regions with respect to the vaccination of age groups. Although in absolute numbers, it is only slightly below the national average – the region has administered 89% of all vaccines received, compared to 90% – the Madrid government is still only immunizing the 50-54 population. Indeed, it had estimated that it will not begin vaccinating the 40-49 age group until mid-June and the 30-39 population until the beginning of July.

The vaccination drive is having a very important impact in the transmission of the disease
Fernando Simón, director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts

“The delay is not serious,” said José María Molero, a family doctor in Madrid and the spokesperson for the infectious disease department of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (Semfyc). “The initial organizational problem of having only two mass-vaccination sites has been solved. I don’t know when [the region] fell behind, but I think this delay is due to the type of population that has been vaccinated: Madrid has a higher life expectancy and a greater population of senior age groups, as well as more cases of patients with disease that put them at high risk,” he added, in reference to people with medical conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients, who were one of the first priority groups.

Regional health authorities have also been vaccinating other groups at high risk due to their social-economic situation or because they are difficult to locate, such as rough sleepers, irregular migrants, seasonal fruit pickers and sailors. The Janssen vaccine, which is made by a subsidiary of the US multinational Johnson & Johnson, is being prioritized for people in these categories as only one dose of the medication is needed for full protection.

According to the central Health Ministry, Spain is set to receive another three million vaccine doses this week – a figure that is expected to be quickly administered, given the current pace of the campaign, said Simón. “This is going to allow us to return to the life we had before,” he added, explaining that 1,255,000 people were vaccinated on Saturday and Sunday – the highest weekend number on record. “More than 11 million people are fully vaccinated. Little by little, we are reaching the goal of vaccinating 70% of the Spanish population in summer,” he said.

The latest epidemiological report, released Monday by the Health Ministry, recorded 871 new coronavirus cases since Friday, as data is not reported on Saturdays and Sundays. A total of 4,411 people are in hospital for Covid-19, with 1,124 patients in intensive care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 80,236 people have died after testing positive for the virus. The real death toll is likely much higher given the limited testing capacity during the early stages of the health crisis.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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