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FLU VACCINE

Getting the flu vaccine in Spain in 2021: What you need to know

Spain’s Health Ministry will officially kick off this year’s flu vaccine campaign on October 25th, with health experts stressing the risks of contracting influenza and Covid-19. Here’s who should get the flu vaccine, how it ties in with a third Covid vaccine and more.

A man received the flu vaccine in Spain. Most regional health authorities will administer a third Covid-19 booster vaccine along with the flu vaccine.
Most Spanish regional health authorities will administer a third Covid-19 booster vaccine along with the flu vaccine. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

When will Spain’s flu jab campaign be launched?

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias announced in late September that people across the country would be soon able to get their flu jab, a nationwide start date which has now been officially confirmed as Monday October 25th.  

However, regions such as Galicia, the Basque Country and Andalusia have kicked off their campaigns early as they’ve already seen an increase in flu cases this autumn.

In the Balearic Islands on the other hand, the flu vaccine campaign is likely to start in early November.

Who can get the flu vaccine?

Spanish health authorities recommend the flu vaccine for four main groups:

  • people over 65, especially those in care homes 
  • People under 65 with pre-existing conditions (diabetes, obesity, cancer…), premature babies between the age of 6 months and two years, pregnant women at all stages of pregnancy
  • Those who spend time regularly with people in these high-risk groups
  • Essential workers such as health personnel, police, firemen

“Now 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.

Spain’s Health Ministry also warns that the “synergistic effect” of influenza and Covid-19 in the body multiplies the risk of death in case of coinfection by the two viruses. 

What about the third Covid-19 dose?

Most regional health authorities will administer a third Covid-19 booster vaccine along with the flu vaccine. 

So far those approved for a third jab of the inoculation against the coronavirus are over 70s and immunosuppressed people

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

The scheduled launch of third vaccines for people aged 70 and over is October 25th, the same date as for the flu vaccine in many parts of the country.

Whether those eligible for the vaccines can get the flu and the Covid-19 vaccine during the same visit to the health centre or vaccination point will depend on availability and resources, as each of Spain’s 17 regions is responsible for organising its own health plan. 

What do the experts say?

Experts believe this year’s flu season will have more cases and associated deaths than in 2020-2021 when numbers were particularly low, but no more than other years. 

According to Spain’s National Epidemiology Centre, in 2019-2020 the common flu affected a total of 652,400 people in Spain, of which 1,800 ended up in ICU and 3,900 died from the disease. The previous season (2018-2019) the flu caused 6,300 reported deaths in Spain.

“Although the use of face masks has declined outdoors, it’s still mandatory in stores, schools and other indoor spaces, which is an effective way of reducing infections,” Juan Antonio Sanz of the Spanish Association of Preventive Medicine told news agency EFE.

However, as Jose María Molero of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine points out, social mobility has been practically restored and fewer people will have natural immunity to the common flu as there were far fewer cases last year: “That’s going to mean there’s more likelihood of higher virus transmissibility”.

How do I book a flu vaccine?

You’ll have to either ask at your local health centre “¿como puedo pedir cita para la vacuna de la gripe?” (How can I book an appointment for the flu vaccine?) or Google it along with the name of your province or region. 

Every regional health authority in Spain has its own system in place, although scheduling a vaccination online is usually possible.

Unlike with the Covid-19 vaccine, private health centres in Spain do have the right to administer flu vaccines to patients, meaning that getting the vacuna antigripal is possible outside of the Spanish public health system. 

It’s also possible to buy a flu vaccine dose at pharmacies in Spain and either administer it yourself or ask someone at a private health centre to do it for you at a small cost, but you may be asked for a doctor’s prescription.

The price of the flu vaccine at chemists is usually €10 to €15. 

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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