Spain’s health minister hints at third vaccine doses for at-risk groups once European agency gives green light

While the curve of the fifth wave continues to flatten, the number of daily Covid-19 fatalities has been over 100 for a second week running now

Health Minister Carolina Darias (c) on Wednesday during a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System (CISNS).
Health Minister Carolina Darias (c) on Wednesday during a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System (CISNS).Fernando.Calvo (POOL MONCLOA/EFE)

Spain is managing to flatten the curve during this, the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, but right now the daily data is reflecting the worst part of the process. According to the recent reports supplied by the central Health Ministry, new infections, hospitalizations and the incidence of the virus are all falling, but the number of Covid-19 fatalities is still on the rise given the serious condition of coronavirus patients who became infected during the peak of the wave and have been receiving hospital treatment that was unable to save them.

On Wednesday, a total of 163 deaths were added to the overall toll – that’s lower than the record for the fifth wave of 190 seen on Tuesday, but is still the second-worst date since the month of May and confirms a trend of more than 100 fatalities a day for the second week running now. Since August 15, the Health Ministry has notified more than 1,200 Covid-19 fatalities in total.

We have a downward trend, but we cannot relax
Health Minister Carolina Darias

The latest Health Ministry report also reflects a fall in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, with 7,657 – that’s 302 fewer than Tuesday. The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants has fallen 15 points, meanwhile, to 291 cases.

“We have a downward trend, but we cannot relax,” explained Health Minister Carolina Darias on Wednesday. She was speaking after a meeting of the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System (CISNS), which brings together the central Health Ministry and the regions.

The CISNS discussed on Wednesday the possibility of administering a third dose to some collectives, such as seniors and the immunosuppressed. Spain is waiting for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to grant permission, but it is taking a lot longer than expected. While a number of administrations stated last week that the agency would make a decision this week, a spokesperson from the EMA has issued this written statement: “There is no meeting planned for today or the coming days dedicated to establishing a recommendation about the third dose. In this phase, it has still not been determined whether a booster shot will be necessary nor when. The Agency is currently revising the available data to make recommendations that help countries with their vaccination campaigns.”

Darias reiterated yesterday that Spain would be “sticking to the scientific evidence” with its decisions, but the messages being conveyed by her ministry suggest that sooner or later a third dose will become a reality and the question is whether this will be reserved for certain collectives or the entire population.

“Both Pfizer and Moderna are carrying out clinical trials and we hope to have the results soon,” the minister explained, in reference to two of the manufacturers of the several vaccines being used in Spain. “Pfizer’s [trail] covers a third dose of the existing vaccine, and Moderna’s is a new formula of its vaccine that is adapted to new variants. We are waiting for the EMA to make an announcement. If the decision is taken, our country is prepared to administer this third dose.”

New low in August

There was another worrying data point released on Wednesday by the Health Ministry: the number of first vaccine doses hit a new low for August so far, with just under 120,000 injections administered. That is 45,000 fewer than Tuesday and nearly 90,000 below the number of first shots injected last Wednesday.

Darias admitted that the campaign had “slowed,” attributing the situation to the summer vacation season, but she sought to convey an optimistic message. “The citizens of this country are an example, and the vaccination campaign has been a collective success,” she said. “What we have to do is get those vaccines from the fridges into people’s arms.”

The ministry reported on Wednesday that 67.3% of the population in Spain now has the full protection offered by the vaccines, which is 31.9 million people. Meanwhile, 75.8% of the population has received the first dose, which is 35.9 million people.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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