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

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

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.

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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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