Spain approves third dose of Covid-19 vaccine for over-70s

Spain's Health Ministry has said it will give third doses of coronavirus vaccines to over-70s starting in late October, hoping to improve their protection against Covid-19.

Delfina, 103, is vaccinated against Covid-19 in a car outside the Donostia Hospital in San Sebastian on February 24, 2021. - Spain has been hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, recording over 68,000 deaths from more than 3.1 million cases. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)
Delfina, 103, is vaccinated against Covid-19 in a car outside the Donostia Hospital in San Sebastian on February 24, 2021. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

Spain’s National Public Health Commission on Tuesday decided to offer the booster jab vaccinations from October 25th to elderly people who received a second vaccine dose more than six months ago, the ministry said in a statement.

Almost 7 million people in Spain fall into the over 70s category and their booster vaccines will be either Pfizer or Moderna.

Many people aged 70 to 79 received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April, meaning they will have to combine Covid-19 vaccines, something which hasn’t been common during Spain’s Covid inoculation campaign. 

Spain had until now only offered third doses to care home residents and some people with compromised immune systems.

“The aim is to increase protection of the most vulnerable,” the ministry said.

Europe’s medicines watchdog on Monday approved a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for over-18s, against a background of fears their protection against the virus could diminish over time.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has also approved booster doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna shots for seriously immunocompromised people.

More than 15 countries worldwide have begun issuing third doses, including in European Union nations including France, Italy and Germany.

Eyeing a potential winter resurgence of Covid, some countries did not wait for EU authorities’ approval for their schemes.

Around 87 percent of people in Spain over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated.

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias also recently announced that in the second half of October people across Spain will be able to get their flu jab. 

“No more than ever, it’s important to get the flu vaccine,” Darias said with regards to high risk groups in particular, as the compounded effect of contracting the Covid-19 virus and the flu virus poses a serious threat to them. 

Spanish health authorities recommend the flu vaccine for people over 65 years of age, for those aged between 6 months and 65 years with pre-existing conditions and those who spend time regularly with people in these high-risk groups.

“They’re inactivated vaccines against influenza which contain fractions of the virus or viral proteins, therefore they do not contain live viruses and cannot cause influenza”, Spain’s Health Ministry writes.


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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.