Spain divides population into groups to prioritize for Covid-19 vaccine

Spain’s Health Ministry has divided the population into 15 groups to determine the order in which vaccinations will be given under a plan unveiled on Friday.

Spain divides population into groups to prioritize for Covid-19 vaccine
Photo: AFP

The three stage immunization plan will begin in January with those most vulnerable and on the front line and each phase will last three months, said Salvador Illa, Spain’s Health Minister.

The first phase between January and March will cover approximately 2.5 million people and includes health professionals, those living in residential care homes, and the people that care for them.

The second phase will roll out between April and June and the final phase will continue over the summer months with a view to Spain’s entire population being covered by September.

“The groups cover the entire Spanish population. On this basis, it will be decided who will have priority in stage 2 and 3. It will be a flexible decision, which will be made by the technicians when we have more data on vaccines and their availability. The strategy is going to be updated ”, Illa explained.

In a press release on Friday, Illa announced the 15 groups in this order, clarifying that this did not necessarily mean that this was the order of priority: 

  •  Health professionals (1st phase)
  • Care home users (1st phase)
  •  Over-64s
  •  Largely dependent people living at home (1st phase)
  •  People at risk of Covid-19
  •  Those working or living in closed places
  •  Vulnerable groups for socioeconomic reasons
  •  Those employed in essential services
  •  Education staff
  • Children
  • Young people (over 16)
  • Adults
  • People living in places affected by outbreaks
  • Pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers
  • Those already immune

The Health Minister reiterated that vaccinations will be voluntary.

The speed of the immunization programme will depend on when exactly the vaccines become available and in what quantity but Spain has already negotiated contracts with six pharmaceutical companies to supply 140 million doses –  it is currently thought that most vaccines will require a double dose to be effective – so there should be more than enough to cover Spain’s 44 million population.

READ MORE: When will the new Covid-19 vaccines be available in Spain?

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Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.