Spain has highest share of fully vaccinated people of world’s large countries

Nearly 26 million individuals are completely immunized against Covid-19, putting the country ahead of the UK, Germany, the US and France

Vacunacion coronavirus España
A vaccination center at Seville's Olympic stadium.PACO PUENTES
Pablo Linde

Out of the world’s 50 most populated countries, Spain has the largest share of people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19. According to the latest comparable data available on the website Ourworldindata, run by Oxford University, Spain overtook the United Kingdom last Thursday in terms of administered second doses. This trend was maintained in Sunday’s figures, which were published on Tuesday in the online repository.

According to the latest Spanish Health Ministry report from Monday, 25.9 million residents, representing 54.7% of the population, are fully vaccinated. This percentage is different from what the Oxford website shows for Spain (55.5%) because the latter institution uses population figures taken from United Nations databases in order to compare countries. Using that metric, last Sunday Canada had fully immunized 55.2% of its population, although this country has since then released its Monday figures, something that Spain will not do until Tuesday afternoon. And the United Kingdom had fully vaccinated 54.9% of its population.

There are other countries with better vaccination rates, but they are all small nations with populations of under 10 million, such as Malta (83.6%) Iceland (74.3%), Hungary, Uruguay, United Arab Emirates and Israel. The largest country with a better rate is Chile, with a population of nearly 20 million, which has vaccinated 63%.

We need governments to understand that we won’t be safe until everyone is safe
Silvia de Sanjosé, IS Global

Spain’s secretary general for Digital Health, Alfredo González, on Monday said that the data makes Spain “better prepared” to deal with a recent spike in infections. The 14-day cumulative case rate has soared to 700 per 100,000 people, although authorities are underscoring that this has not led to a comparable rise in hospitalizations, as with previous waves of the pandemic. Most of the infections are affecting young, unvaccinated people and regional governments, which are in charge of the vaccination drive, are ramping up efforts to immunize this group as well as stragglers from other age brackets.

Spain’s strong pace of vaccination has been made possible by several factors. As part of the European Union, it had early access to a large amount of doses. Outside the EU, only the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and a few other countries have received large shipments.

But while the immunization drive has gradually slowed down in other European countries, it has remained strong in Spain. The EU average for fully vaccinated citizens is 46.2%; in Germany it is 49%, in Italy it is 48% and in France it is 44%.

Following a few obstacles during the early stages of the campaign, inoculations reached cruising speed in the second quarter of the year and have kept up their pace thanks to broad acceptance by Spaniards. Unlike other countries, Spain is not having to resort to special incentives to get people to show up for their appointments. José Antonio Forcada, president of the National Association of Nursing and Vaccines (Anevac), said that even among younger people, who are less at risk of developing serious symptoms, the vaccination rate remains “very good.”

“This may be because some people think that after getting vaccinated, they can do whatever they want, which is a mistake,” he added. But Forcada noted that there was already a good “vaccine culture” in Spain, which has one of the world’s highest childhood vaccination rates.

He also underscored the effort of health professionals across the country: “We’ve resorted to nurses from hospitals and health centers, volunteers who are doing double shifts and working themselves to the bone.”

Group immunity

Three million doses were administered last week. At the current pace, it is likely that 70% of the population will be fully immunized by late August, meeting a deadline set by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

The question now is, what does that figure mean? At first it was believed that vaccinating 70% of the population would achieve so-called herd immunity, which makes it so difficult for the virus to expand that it virtually disappears. But this percentage now needs to be higher due to the new, more infectious strains of the coronavirus that have since developed. Although there is no exact number, experts figure that it is somewhere between 80% and 90%.

This would require vaccinating practically everyone who is eligible – for now there are no approved vaccines for children under 12, who represent around 11% of the population in Spain. It is for this reason that teenagers are being considered, while in places such as the UK they have been left out of the campaign on the recommendation of experts who say the risks of the vaccine do not compensate for the potential benefits, considering that most children with coronavirus develop no or very mild symptoms. But they can pass on the virus to other people.

A vaccination site in Seville.
A vaccination site in Seville.PACO PUENTES (EL PAÍS)

It will also be difficult to immunize groups who do not want to be vaccinated or who are hard to locate due to their lack of a permanent address. Forcada said it will be “very complicated” to reach group immunity in Spain before late 2021.

As for immunization at the global level, there is no date in sight, if that is even a possibility. Silvia de Sanjosé, president of a Covid-19 monitoring group sponsored by the Barcelona-based IS Global health institute and the Barcelona physicians association, sums it up like this: “It’s going awful.”

“Unless all countries make an effort at the international level to try to bring vaccines to vulnerable populations, to health personnel, we’re going to be seeing new strain after new strain and we are not going to stop this pandemic in a long time,” she said.

Sanjosé said the EU vaccine purchase program, despite all its problems, is a good example of what countries can do if they work together, and that governments should pressure for a similar effort with involvement by the UN or the World Health Organization (WHO) to distribute doses more equitably.

“We need governments to understand that we won’t be safe until everyone is safe.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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