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VACCINE

Single-dose nasal spray? What you need to know about Spain’s own Covid-19 vaccines 

Spain is yet to roll out its own Covid-19 vaccine but there are promising developments taking place in Spanish labs, with stronger single-dose vaccinations in the form of nasal sprays being one of the standout features. Here’s what you need to know about 'la vacuna española' (the Spanish vaccine), the setbacks it faces and when it's likely to be launched.

spain vaccine covid
Photo: NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

Lack of funding means delays

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are 102 clinical trials of vaccines underway and 185 more in the preclinical phase. 

Practically all of the vaccines being developed in Spain are in this phase, testing its validity in vitro and in animals while waiting to take the leap towards the first tests on human volunteers. 

This is where approved Covid vaccines such as Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca were a year ago. 

Whilst Spanish vaccine investigations have received hundreds of thousands of euros in funding, that pales in comparison with the billions of euros that well-known approved vaccines have been given. 

“In these cases, time and money are the same parameter; the speed of scientific research depends on how much money you invest,” Valencia health investigation councillor Javi Burgos is quoted as saying in several Spanish newspapers. 

There have also been reports highlighting the precarious work conditions and low pay of some Spanish researchers working on these vaccines and how in some cases retired scientists are having to return to the labs to help out.  

Better late than never 

The president of Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) Rosa Menéndez said on March 28th that she trusted that three Spanish vaccines being developed by her organization’s scientists would begin clinical trials with humans “in a matter of weeks”.

As things stand, one of these vaccines – the MVA-CoV2-S one being developed by CSIC and pharma company Biofabri, part of Grupo Zendal – has now received €2.4 million in government funding for the clinical trials to start in the northwestern region of Galicia, although no date has been confirmed yet.

“We will launch later, but with everything updated,” CSIC virologist Luis Enjuanes told Spanish health website ConSalud.es about the fact that the trials will include the virus mutations that have developed over the past year. 

“The Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective, but not perfect: you have to give two doses and even though vaccinated people are protected from suffering a serious case of Covid-19 and dying from the virus, they can get infected and can spread the virus,” Enjuanes explained.

spanish covid vaccinePhoto: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Stronger, nasal and single dose

Spain’s main scientific body is working on self-amplifying RNA-based vaccines which allow for lower doses to be used as the vaccine multiplies by 5,000 once inside the body, creating a type of sterilising immunity that prevents people from falling ill but also from infecting others.  

This self-amplifying feature would allow for this ‘made in Spain’ Covid vaccine to be a single dose and developers could manufacture far more doses as a result of this self-amplifying capacity.

Spanish researchers are also considering making the vaccine’s administration intranasal, which gives greater protection in the respiratory tract, the main gateway for the coronavirus. 

This would probably take the form of nasal spray rather than an injection. Similar inoculations are being developed in other countries such as Russia and France. 

When will a Spanish Covid vaccine be available?

Despite the work being carried out on the Biofabri-CSIC vaccine, another inoculation being developed by Spanish pharmaceutical company Hipra is expected to be rolled out sooner. 

Hipra’s vaccine is based on a recombinant protein that creates a neutralising immune response to the virus and can be kept between 2 and 8 C, making it easier to transport and store. 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited the Hipra plant in Girona in (Catalonia) in April and gave his government’s backing to the project, with clinical trials estimated to start in June, whereas for the Biofabri-CSIC vaccine these won’t reportedly take place until early 2022.

The Hipra vaccine’s commercialisation is expected to begin towards the end of 2021, and over the course of next year 400 million doses are forecast to be produced.  

According to Our World in Data, only 12.5 percent of the global population has received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, a figure that’s even smaller in low-income countries: 0.8 percent.

So although Spain may not be one of the countries that has led the way in terms of vaccine development, it can still play an important role in helping to immunise the planet’s 7.7 billion inhabitants.

If you want to read more about Spain’s vaccination campaign, visit our vaccine news section here

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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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