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VACCINE

Spain to produce at least four Covid-19 vaccines as Moderna supplies dry up

Spain will manufacture four of the existing Covid-19 vaccines on home soil, a move government officials believe will speed up the country’s inoculation campaign.

Spain to produce at least four Covid-19 vaccines as Moderna supplies dry up
A nurse holds up vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines. Photo: AFP

“Spain will have at least four pharmaceutical plants to produce coronavirus vaccines,” Spain’s Secretary General for Industry and SMEs Raúl Blanco announced on Monday. 

Spanish pharma company Rovi has already started producing the Moderna vaccine in Spain but other pharmaceutical companies will now join the factory line.

Insud Pharma will manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine vials, Reig Jofre will produce the Janssen vaccine and Biofabri will carry out the industrial production of the Novavax vaccine.

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Spain’s Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto echoed Blanco’s words, adding that the government is now looking to close a fifth deal with another pharmaceutical plant.

“This will accelerate the distribution of these vaccines in Spain and we are working so that there are more, as Spain is very well positioned in EU terms to both produce the active principles (of the vaccines) and to bottle and store the medicine,” Maroto said.

“It’s good news,” Blanco concluded about the fact that Spain would gain greater autonomy in terms of vaccine availability and easier distribution, whilst also stressing that it was key that the EU maintained “industrial sovereignty”.

The official announcement came just hours before Moderna said it would reduce the number of Covid-19 vaccines it sends Spain, giving problems on the production line as a reason.

It’s a decision which is likely to have an impact on the Spanish Health Ministry’s vaccination plans as just this week it will halve the expected 483,000 vaccine doses that were scheduled for delivery.

Holdups from abroad have been one of the recurring setbacks Spain has faced since it began its vaccination campaign in late December, although the painstakingly slow rollout seen over the Christmas period has been largely resolved now.

Why was Spain’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout going so slowly at first?

However, US ratings agency Standard and Poor’s on Saturday warned that if Spain didn’t speed up its vaccine campaign, the chances of being able to rescue its ailing economy through a successful summer tourism season would fade away. 

As of February 16, 2.26 percent of people in Spain have received the two required doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. 

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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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