CORONAVIRUS

Spain hits new milestone, fully vaccinating more than half of its inhabitants against Covid-19

Asturias is the region that has immunized the highest proportion of its population, with the Canary and Balearic islands and Madrid at the bottom of the table

Madrileños wait in line to be vaccinated at the Hospital Isabel Zendal in a file photo from earlier in July.
Madrileños wait in line to be vaccinated at the Hospital Isabel Zendal in a file photo from earlier in July.KIKE PARA

The speed with which Spain’s mass Covid-19 vaccination campaign is progressing has now seen more than half of Spaniards receive the full protection offered by the shots. This milestone was reached at some point during the weekend, according to the latest report on the campaign published on Monday by the Health Ministry.

Some 24.04 million citizens in Spain – 50.7% of the total – have now received the two doses necessary of the Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or the single shot of the Janssen medication, for full protection. The number of Spanish residents with the first dose is now at 29.48 million people, which is 62.1% of the population, while the total number of doses administered exceeds 51.2 million.

This latest achievement has been celebrated by healthcare chiefs. Antoni Trilla, the head of preventive medicine at the Hospital Clínica in Barcelona, points to the efficient work that has been carried out and highlights the “very good acceptance that the vaccines have had in Spain, something that is even more evident if the data are compared with other, nearby countries.”

Trilla adds that “the campaign is going well, although it is possible that as the percentages of coverage grow it will be more difficult to continue at this pace. The last kilometers are always the hardest. But we have to keep working to vaccinate the biggest number of the population possible, because it’s the only way to protect the lives of millions of people and bring an end to the pandemic.”

Quique Bassat, an epidemiologist and researcher at the ISGlobal institute in Barcelona, describes three stages of the campaign so far. The first was when there were doubts about the safety of some of the vaccines, such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca, which was found to cause a tiny number of cases of rare blood clots. “Then that was all left behind, the speed of the vaccination gained pace, and it was clear that the strategy was good and has been applied genuinely well.”

The problem, Bassat continues, came with the more-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, which was first identified in India. “With it, we have seen how some people who are fully vaccinated can contract the virus, and for herd immunity we will need 80% or even 90% of the population vaccinated, which is considerably higher than the 70% first forecast,” he explains. “This has made clear that confidence in the vaccination has led to some measures being removed too soon.”

Despite the good data for vaccination on a national level, the differences that exist between regions are considerable. Asturias, Galicia and Castilla y León are the most advanced with their campaigns, having immunized 62.4%, 59.5% and 57.6% of their populations, respectively. At the bottom of the table is the Madrid region, with 47.5%. Despite this poor showing, the regional government has systematically been calling on the central government to supply it with more vaccines, despite having around a million doses in storage. Along with the Canary Islands (46.5%), Murica (47.5%) and the Balearic Islands (47.5%), Madrid is one of the regions that is currently least capable of administering the vaccines to its population.

Madrid’s regional health chief, Enrique Ruiz Escudero, called on Monday for residents to have “a bit of patience” if they have not received their appointments for the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine in the expected 21-day period. Escudero, who pointed out that up to 28 days can be left between these doses, attributed the delay to “the current environment of scarcity of vaccines” – despite Madrid having the aforementioned million doses in storage.

The strong progress of the Spanish campaign in general is in stark contrast to the delicate epidemiological situation in which Spain finds itself due to the explosion in cases registered in recent weeks. This new wave, the fifth in Spain, began among the younger population, which is yet to be vaccinated, but continues to spread among older citizens, in particular those who have not yet received both doses of their vaccine.

The campaign is practically complete among the over-80s, with 100% immunized, and this feat is close to being repeated for those aged 70 to 79 (97.6%). There is still a while to go for those aged 60 to 69, with 81.2% fully vaccinated. This is because the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is being used on this group, and a larger gap is required between shots (initially 12 weeks, although most regions have reduced this to eight).

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The campaign is also moving quickly among the next age group, 50-59, whose level of protection is currently at 85.5%. These last two groups are of particular concern to healthcare chiefs given that their age means they are at greater risk of developing serious symptoms from Covid-19.

Percentages are also rising among the younger age groups. Those aged 40 to 49 have seen 62.7% receive both doses, a figure that rises to 21% for those aged 30 to 39. The vaccine coverage below that age is still under 20%, but the majority of Spain’s regions are now preparing the schedules to immunize the over-16s and thus help contain the fifth wave of the pandemic.

Spain is one of the EU countries with the highest vaccination coverage. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) raised the alert last week for a dozen or so countries calling on them to speed up the vaccination of their seniors given the slowdown that has been observed in the campaign.

According to data from the ECDC, which offers higher percentages because it only focuses on the over-18s (the Health Ministry makes its calculations based on all citizens, regardless of age), only four countries in the European Union have vaccinated more of their citizens: Malta (82%), Hungary (64.6%), Ireland (60.8%) and Cyprus (57.4%). This is compared to 55.9% for Spain.

All of these countries have a much smaller population than Spain, while Hungary has opted to use the four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as well as four others from third countries: CanSino and Sinopharm (China), Sputnik (Russia) and Covishield (the version of AstraZeneca produced in India).

English version by Simon Hunter.

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