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VACCINE

CONFIRMED: Spain approves Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine for under 50s

Spain’s Health Ministry on Tuesday approved the use of the J&J inoculation for people in their forties and announced which other vaccines will be made available to those in the 40 to 49 age group.

CONFIRMED: Spain approves Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine for under 50s
A sign reads "Today we administer Janssen" at a vaccination centre at the Wizink Center in Madrid on May 21, 2021. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

The Spanish government had initially announced that for people aged 40 to 49 years (born between 1972 and 1981, both those years included), “the vaccines used will be considered based on the availability, the context of the pandemic and the evidence”. 

On June 1st, following two weeks of negotiations with the regions and Spain’s Public Health Commission, they confirmed that only the vaccines developed with the ARN messenger – Pzifer, Moderna and now Johson & Johnson – will be the ones administered to this age group.

Around 3.7 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines are expected to arrive in Spain over the course of June, compared to 13 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer inoculation.

Known as la vacuna Janssen, Spain began using this vaccine with its 70 to 79 age group and on May 12th extended its use to people aged 50 to 59 and those classified as vulnerable due to health and other conditions (all ages).

“Since this vaccine only requires one dose, it has important advantages for its use from the point of view of feasibility and efficiency of health resources for certain groups that are difficult to reach and vaccinate, either because they’re not in the health system (for example, homeless people), or due to the need to send healthcare personnel to private homes, or because they are groups that can’t go the health centre due to other reasons (certain work activities, such as workers at sea, NGO workers who travel to high-risk areas), ” Spanish health ministry sources explained.

The nearly 8 million people in Spain who are aged 40 to 49 will be vaccinated “once the vaccination campaign of over fifties is completed”. So far 59.9 percent of people aged 50 to 59 have received at least one dose of the vaccine in Spain.

Some regions such as Murcia, Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha and the Canary Islands have already started contacting people in the 40 to 49 age group to receive their vaccination.

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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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