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VACCINE

Pressure grows on Spain to offer AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged up to 65

Spain’s Health Ministry will announce on Thursday if it will change the age limit for the AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19 from 55 up to 65 years of age, with doctors and regional governments calling on health authorities to do so.

Pressure grows on Spain to offer AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged up to 65
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Pressure is growing on the Spanish government to make the AstraZeneca vaccine available to people up to the age of 65 and not 55, in line with European neighbours Portugal, Germany, France, Greece and Italy who have also set the same age limit.

Spain’s National Healthcare Committee, which is made up of health experts from the central government and regional authorities, will announce on Thursday if they will lift the previous age limit on the AstraZeneca inoculation which was set in early February.

Medical associations and public health specialists argue that the vaccine has been shown to be effective and safe in all ages older than 18, including people older than 80.

Their argument is that widening the age bracket for the AstraZeneca vaccine will alleviate the pressure on hospitals, which in turn is what forces regional governments to impose restrictions on mobility and social interaction to the entire population. This, they say, cannot happen if the 60-79 age group isn’t massively vaccinated.

This age group, in which 60 percent of ICU cases are concentrated , is now in a ‘vaccination limbo’, since the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are currently being given to people over 80 years of age, and that of AstraZeneca to those under 56.

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Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias was intending to wait on the results of clinical tests being carried out on the AstraZeneca vaccine in the United States, but regional authorities in Catalonia, Madrid and Andalusia are saying the change cannot wait any longer.

According to health ministry sources, the rest of Spain’s regions prefer to “pay attention to the clinical results and scientific evidence”.

Another topic of discussion at the table will be the possibility of bringing forward the vaccine rollout in some cases for people in the higher risk groups, as well as the vaccine measures that will be taken at Spanish universities.

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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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