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VACCINE

Can I choose which Covid-19 vaccine I get in Spain?

Spain is set to receive at least 1.8 million coronavirus vaccine doses in February, but are the people being called up to get inoculated now – and those who will be in the coming months – being allowed to choose which Covid-19 vaccine they get?

Can I choose which Covid-19 vaccine I get in Spain?
Photo: AFP

How’s Spain’s Covid vaccination going?

Spain started vaccinating its population against Covid-19 on December 27 with the aim of achieving 70 percent immunisation by the summer.

The largest inoculation campaign in the country’s history got off to a rocky start over Christmas and early January but since then Spain has at least caught up with the rest of the EU, even though officials across Europe have generally been criticised for their countries’ slow vaccine rollouts.

As of February 4, Spain has given the two vaccine doses needed for immunisation to 1.5 percent of its population (500,000 people), with only care home residents and health professionals being vaccinated currently. Next in line in March are 6.5 million over-seventies.

However, the global vaccination race is everchanging and Spain’s campaign strategy is being adapted depending on the vaccines being approved.

First came the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, then the Moderna one, now the divisive AstraZeneca is set to be rolled out and even Russia’s Covid vaccine Sputnik V is being considered.

READ ALSO:

Will I be able to choose which Covid-19 vaccine I get in Spain?

As Spain’s government website states, “the vaccines that will be available and when they will be licensed is still unknown”.

“It is very important to use the available vaccines to vaccinate people according to the established priority categories.”

“The information available relating to the use of each vaccine will be taken into account but, keeping in mind the limited number of doses and their difficult handling, it will not be possible to offer a choice”.

The Spanish government therefore doesn’t plan to give its population the option of choosing which vaccine they personally consider safest or most effective.

Is there a but?

Well, the situation could change. Spain will have to factor in if there are any common side-effects or efficacy problems with any of the licenced vaccines, or if the usage of one is recommended for a particular demographic group.

As evidence of this, Spanish health authorities announced on Thursday that they would not give the AstraZeneca vaccine to over-80s and are currently debating whether over-65s should get it, putting it down to the lack of data for those particular age groups.

The matter of vaccine supply shortages will also play a major role in these decisions, as it has done over the past two months in some regions of Spain, but with the recent green light given to the AstraZeneca vaccine, Spain will effectively double its supply in February from 1.8 million to 4 million doses, if everything goes according to plan.

Other vaccines likely to apply for a licence from the European Commission in the coming weeks and months are being developed by Janssen / Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi / Pasteur / Glaxo Wellcome, CureVac and Novavax.

More than 150 other vaccines are currently undergoing clinical trials.

There is of course the matter of logistical hiccups preventing this spike in available vaccines from resulting in a faster rollout, as a lack of syringes and proper refrigeration for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has already caused.

Even the fact that vaccines are only being administered in health centres puts the brakes on a potentially faster and flexible vaccine campaign.

Madrid officials on Thursday allowed the city’s pharmacists to start carrying out Covid testing and they are now pushing for them to be allowed to vaccinate the public as well. If Spain’s 20,000 pharmacies were given these rights, the burden on Spain's health system could be reduced, although many have spoken out against externalising the process.

However, even with ample vaccine availability and a more efficient modus operandi, Spanish health authorities will still have the final say when it comes to determining the most appropriate vaccine for each population group.

Spain’s Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) is the body that makes these decisions about each of country’s vaccination processes, and given the urgency of getting as much of Spain’s population vaccinated by the summer, they’re unlikely to prioritise personal choice over what’s good for the country as a whole.

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COVID-19

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.

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