Spain to receive no more AstraZeneca vaccines and donate remaining doses

Spain will receive no more doses of the Oxford-Swedish inoculation, but do health authorities have enough vaccines to give the final second jab to 60 to 69 year olds?

Spain to receive no more AstraZeneca vaccines and donate remaining doses

Spain’s Health Ministry has decided it will not order any more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

This comes after confirmation from regional authorities in the country’s 17 autonomous communities that they have the necessary doses to vaccinate the remaining people in the 60 to 69 age group who received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Spain has picked up the pace of vaccination of this group, the only group which was finally allocated the UK-Swedish produced vaccine after a small number of cases involving blood clot side effects. 

With the emergence of the Delta variant in Spain, regional governments brought forward the second AstraZeneca vaccine of people in their sixties, taking the full vaccination rate from under 50 percent in late June to 78 percent on July 19th. 

However, the are still more than a million people in the 60 to 69 age group in Spain who have not received their second and final AZ dose.

According to health authorities, there are enough AstraZeneca doses of the 10 million received still in stock for the remaining people to be fully immunised. 

Remaining vaccines will be donated to COVAX, the Global Access Fund for Covid-19 vaccines.

Back in May, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market Thierry Breton announced that the European Union would not renew the contract with the pharmaceutical company beyond June.

Spain has not received any AstraZeneca vaccines in the last two weeks. 

When the country’s vaccine campaign began in late December 2020, 31 million doses were included in the initial contract, but four deaths from blood clot related problems hampered and halted the campaign. 

Over the last six months, the vaccine has gone from being potentially available to all age groups, to being assigned to 18 to 55 year olds, next being suspended while studies were carried out, then being offered to 18 to 65 year olds and finally being made available to just 60 to 69 year olds. 

As a result it’s been continuously questioned in the Spanish press and brought up in daily talk, but when Spain’s Health Ministry offered a second dose of Pfizer rather than AstraZeneca, an overwhelming majority chose to stick to AZ for the second dose. 

And so Spain just about marks the end of the road for a vaccine that’s been highly questioned, perhaps unfairly, but which has been administered more than 10.3 million times in 2021 and will undoubtedly help in Spain’s race to immunity.

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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.