coronavirus

Spain’s Public Health Commission rules out opening up vaccine campaign for now, opting to stick to descending age groups

According to the latest ministry report, 45.8% of the Spanish population has now received at least one vaccine dose. The over-40s are currently being called up for their shots

Vaccination drive in the Ford factory in Valencia on June 11.
Vaccination drive in the Ford factory in Valencia on June 11.BIEL ALIÑO / EFE

Spain’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign will continue to respect an order based on age until the entire process is complete. That’s what was agreed on Tuesday by the Public Health Commission, which is made up of the Health Ministry and representatives from the regions. Right now, the 40-49 age group is being called up for their shots. The commission has decided to move on to the 30-39 group afterward, then people in their 20s, before finally focusing on adolescents aged 12 to 19 – the youngest age that the vaccines have so far been approved for.

According to the latest report from the Health Ministry, 45.8% of the Spanish population, which is around 21.7 million people, has received at least one vaccine dose, while 27.4% – 13 million people – now have the full protection offered by the vaccines. All of Spain’s regions – which are in charge of their campaigns as well as the overall control of the pandemic in their territory – have practically finished immunizing the over-70s.

Meanwhile, among the 60-69 group, only a quarter have received both doses given that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is being used for this segment of the population. The Spanish authorities are leaving a gap of 10 to 12 weeks between the two doses needed for this vaccine to offer its full protection. The campaign is moving faster in the 50-59 group, with four in every five people having got both doses already.

The Health Ministry said on Tuesday in a statement that a certain overlap in the groups being immunized is permitted, “taking into account the greater availability of vaccines in the coming weeks, the current epidemiological situation and the arrival of the vacation period, as well as for organizational questions and workability.”

More than 45% of the Spanish population has received at least one vaccine dose, while 27.4% now have the full protection offered by the vaccines

According to the latest report from the Health Ministry, the incidence of the coronavirus in Spain continues its slow fall. The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is now at 101, down from 113 last Tuesday, with only two regions still above 150, one of the indicators that denotes high risk. They are Andalusia (184) and La Rioja (177). The ministry reported 3,432 new infections last night and added 62 Covid-19 deaths to the overall total since the pandemic began. In total, there have been 3,745,199 confirmed infections in Spain, and 80,579 official victims.

The decisions made at the Public Health Commission on Tuesday mean that for now, the campaign will not be moving to an indiscriminate phase where the remaining unvaccinated population can request their shots. This has been the approach taken by other European countries such as Italy, Germany and France. But the Spanish health authorities are allowing certain flexibility in order to maintain the fast pace of the vaccinations.

The idea is to call on younger candidates should citizens be unable to get their injections because they are on vacation, thus taking advantage of all the vaccine doses that arrive in Spain.

Health worker administering a vaccine in Seville.
Health worker administering a vaccine in Seville.PACO PUENTES / EL PAÍS

The ministry stated on Tuesday that for now, the priority is the over-40s who are still yet to get their shots, as well as adolescents over the age of 12 who are disabled or at risk due to medical conditions. The use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved for the latter age group on May 31.

Several experts consulted by EL PAÍS have stated that while the fast pace of the vaccination campaign continues, the strategy of age groups is adequate. Pedro Gullón, from the Spanish Epidemiological Society, said: “We could forego [this system] if we didn’t have the capability of calling people in order. In that case, opening up the process to all ages would be more appropriate.”

The priority of the drive is the over-40s who are still yet to get their shots, as well as adolescents over the age of 12 who are disabled or at risk due to medical conditions

In Germany, however, opening up the process to all ages has caused chaotic situations and an overloading of the system that has seen people who are not in risk groups secure their injections if they know where to find them, while those in need are unable to secure appointments, reports Elena G. Sevillano. But that country has a very different health system from that of Spain.

The Public Health Commission also examined planned changes to the “Strategy for early detection, monitoring and control of Covid-19,” a document that will be voted on the next time the body meets. The Health Ministry did not explain which changes are being considered, but sources with knowledge of the issues have explained that they will likely relate to close contacts who have already been vaccinated. This is something that Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), has suggested when talking to the press in recent months – that protocols will have to be changed as more of the population gets the protection offered by the vaccines.

According to sources from the Catalan health department, the region’s representatives were pressing on Tuesday at the Public Health Commission meeting for the obligatory use of masks outside to be lifted. Meanwhile, the Andalusian health chief, Jesús Aguirre, said yesterday that the region is not considering eliminating the obligatory use of masks until its committee of experts backs the move. He added that in the region the same rules will apply this summer as last year: “If you are on the beach or alone in the countryside, you don’t need to wear one,” he said.

In Madrid, meanwhile, the acting regional health chief Enrique Ruiz Escudero said on Tuesday that he thought it would be possible for the outdoor use of masks to be dropped at the end of June, when 50% of the population in the region should be vaccinated. If new infections and pressure on hospitals continues to fall, he said, “we have to start to think about loosening their use, in particular in open spaces.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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