Will Spain give a Covid booster shot to people of all ages?

Spain's Health Ministry announced on Tuesday that so far one million people have received Covid-19 booster shots in the country, but will adults of all ages soon be eligible?

Health workers vaccinate people against Covid-19 at the Donostia Arena former bullring in San Sebastian on May 31, 2021. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)
Most Spanish vaccine experts have rules out the need to give Spain's adult population a third dose or Covid booster shot. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

So far, Spain’s Health Ministry has approved Covid-19 booster shots for only those over 65, immunosuppressed people and residents of care homes will be given a Covid-19 booster shot.

On Tuesday November 2nd, Spain’s chief epidemiologist Fernando Simón said that he was against the idea of administering Covid-19 booster shots “in general” as “it seems that immunity lasts for years”. 

Instead, he has advocated “giving them [the Covid-19 booster shots] to third world countries”.

Simón also expressed his doubts about inoculating those under 12 years of age – a group that “is little affected by the disease,” he said.

Last July, Spain’s Health Minister suggested that a “third reinforcement vaccine” against Covid-19 and potentially even more vaccinations every year from now on would be a possibility, although she has since said that the booster campaign would be “dynamic” and would incorporate new age groups based on scientific evidence.

READ ALSO – Getting a Covid-19 booster shot in Spain: What you need to know

What do the Spanish experts say?

Researchers from the Spanish Immunology and Vaccination Societies agree with Simón, saying that the general population should not receive a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot. 

Carmen Cámara, spokesperson for the Spanish Immunology Society said: “It is not necessary, it seems to me, a defeat for the health systems of the first world”.

“I find it unfortunate because we are protected, the protection endures and I do not understand why a booster is needed,” she added. 

The president of the Spanish Association of Vaccinations, Amos José García Rojas, also agreed, saying: “There is no need because we are seeing the efficacy of the vaccine in the results and also the epidemic situation is good”. 

He does however believe that it makes sense to give the booster “to everyone over 65 years of age because the immune system weakens over the years and there the quality of the protective response could be stimulated”. 

READ ALSO: EU medicines agency approves Covid-19 booster vaccine for all adults

Fornightly Covid-19 infection rate across the EU on October 28th 2021. Map: European Center for Disease Prevention and Control
Fornightly Covid-19 infection rate across the EU on October 28th 2021. Map: European Center for Disease Prevention and Control

What does the EU say?

The comments by Spain’s virologists come despite the fact that the European Medicines Agency has given its approval for a Pfizer Covid-19 booster for all adults in order to increase immunity levels.

“The CHMP [Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use] has evaluated data for Comirnaty [Pfizer] showing a rise in antibody levels when a booster dose is given approximately six months after the second dose in people from 18 to 55 years old,” read the EMA statement.

“On the basis of this data, the Committee concluded that booster doses may be considered at least six months after the second dose for people aged 18 years and older.”

Despite this new data provided by the EMA saying that immunity increases with a booster shot, Cámara believes that “this is evident, but the question is whether it is necessary.”

Each country in the EU  is in charge of implementing its own policy towards Covid-19 booster shots and it seems that for the moment Spain, which has one of the lowest infection rates in Europe currently, has for now ruled out the need to give one to the general population. 

In Germany, health authorities are giving a booster to those who received J&J or AstraZeneca as well as younger people who care for vulnerable people.

In the UK, anyone over 50 and those who care for vulnerable people can also get a booster shot, while in Italy all adults are likely to get a third dose in January 2022, authorities have announced. 

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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.