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COVID-19

Spain records lowest daily Covid vaccination rate since May as 70% immunity target fades away

Despite leading the way in vaccinations among the world’s big economies, the rate of inoculation in Spain has been slowing down since mid July and the initial target of having 70 percent of the population vaccinated by late August seems increasingly difficult to reach. 

spain vaccine target 70 %
At the current rate, Spain will miss its initial vaccination target of 70 percent by late August. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell / POOL / AFP

On May 10th, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told his countrymen there were 100 days left for Spain to reach the herd immunity target of 70 percent through vaccination, penciling in the ‘new normality’ milestone for the end of August in the calendar. 

After a rocky start  to a campaign which kicked off in late December 2020 and which was initially marred by delivery delays and a lack of organisation, Spanish health authorities slowly but surely kept increasing the pace of inoculation. 

In recent weeks, Spain has surpassed the UK and the US’s formerly fast-paced vaccine campaigns and currently leads the way among the EU’s most populated nations.

As of Wednesday August 18th, just over 63.7 percent of Spain’s population has been fully vaccinated, more than Italy ‘s 57.2 percent, France’s 52.5 percent and Germany’s 57 percent. 

Only smaller nations such as Malta (91.2 percent), Belgium (65.3 percent), Portugal (64.2 percent) and Denmark (63.9 percent) have fully vaccinated more of their residents. 

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However, since mid July the summer holidays have slowed down the pace of Spain’s vaccination campaign by 55 percent. 

On Tuesday August 17th, regional authorities reported they had administered just over 300,000 doses, a figure which may seem high but is the lowest daily number since May 18th.  

This means that at the current pace, the Spanish government will not reach its target of fully vaccinating 70 percent of its 47 million inhabitants until September, and not by late August as Sánchez had forecast. 

Some regions have tried to counteract the downward trend by offering vaccinations without having to first get an appointment

Almost 30 million people currently have the complete Covid vaccination and by the end of the month it’s expected to be 32 million, one million short of the target.

The country has reached the 70 percent milestone among its target population (12 years and older), with at least 11 regions having already surpassed this rate.

Irregardless of the fact that Spain doesn’t look likely to meet its planned target, this has been a successful campaign, with 67 million doses administered and 83 percent of the population with at least one dose, evidencing how mistrust in public health authorities and vaccine hesitancy aren’t as high as in other nations.

However, the emergence and then dominance of new variants such as the Delta strain (considered 40 to 60 percent more contagious) has meant Spanish authorities have revised the so-called herd immunity target up to 80 percent.

READ MORE: ’70 percent vaccinated isn’t enough’: Why Spain is revising its target for Covid herd immunity

The country’s fortnightly infection rate has dropped by 39 percent over the past two weeks and now stands at 400 cases per 100,000 people, reflecting the downward trend of the country’s fifth coronavirus wave. 

Spanish health authorities have not ruled out that it will be the last, so vaccination targets will continue to be key in the months to come, with vaccines for under 12s and a third booster inoculation both on the table. 

“Once we get to the target of 70 percent vaccinated, we need to carry on vaccinating people until we get as close as possible to 100 percent of the population,” Health Minister Carolina Darias ambitiously announced in late July.

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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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