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COVID-19

Madrid to be first region in Spain to vaccinate children under 12

Madrid’s president has announced her region will offer Covid-19 vaccines to 5 to 11 year olds in December despite the lack of official approval, as part of a number of Christmas Covid measures in the capital which also includes a free antigen test for everyone in Madrid.

Ayuso ran her presidential campaign using the slogan
Ayuso ran her presidential campaign using the slogan "Libertad" (Freedom) in reference to her relaxed approach to Covid restrictions during the pandemic. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso on Wednesday announced her government’s Covid plans for the Christmas period. 

Her government’s focus is reportedly on early detection, extra health staff, public awareness and vaccination, a plan which will “continue to combine the economy and public health”, Ayuso stated in reference to her relaxed approach to Covid measures throughout the pandemic. 

“Rather than going back to closures and lockdowns, what we’re going to do is avoid confusion and be proactive,” the 43 year old said. 

Vaccines for young children

As of December 15th, health workers in the region that houses the Spanish capital will reportedly start vaccinating children between the ages of 5 and 11. 

Ayuso’s announcement comes before official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccination Committee and the Public Health Commission that doses a third of the strength of adult ones should be used in young children. 

The European Medicines Agency recently approved the use of a lighter Pfizer vaccine for children in this age group, but Spanish health experts are still uncertain about whether this is necessary given the very high vaccination coverage in the adult population. 

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias did announce on Tuesday that the first batch of Covid vaccine for under 12s will arrive in the country in the second half of December, but Díaz Ayuso has decided once again to make her own plans rather than wait to hear from Spain’s left-wing government.

Spain’s regions can organise their vaccination strategies with a certain degree of freedom but the legality of vaccinating children without first getting approval from national health departments may be called into question.

Free antigen tests for all

The other standout feature of Ayuso’s Covid Christmas plans is the promise of a free antigen test for pretty much every madrileño, who number 6.6 million across the region, 3.2 million in the city.

These are for “whenever there are social gatherings, for it to be done safely,” the right-wing politician added. 

Madrid’s regional government has bought 4 million antigen tests which will be made available in 3,000 pharmacies from December 15th, so it won’t cover everyone in the region.

Residents will have to show their Madrid regional health card at the chemist whilst those with private health insurance can simply show their ID to get a free test.

Booster shots for people in their sixties

From Thursday December 2nd, people living in the capital aged 60 to 69 will be able to book an appointment to get their Covid-19 booster shot in Madrid. 

Spain’s Public Health Commission had initially proposed that 65 be the cut-off age for the booster dose in Spain but on November 17th Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed the age limit would be dropped to those aged 60 and over.

Rather than opting for a staggered approach in which people born each year are called up separately to get their booster dose, Madrid has opted to open vaccinations to the whole age group in a bid to get madrileños in their sixties that extra protection ahead of Christmas.

“The booster shot for the population aged 60 and over will be given six months after completing the initial full vaccination with mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) and after three months in the case of those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or AstraZeneca doses”, Madrid’s regional government explains. 

More health workers

Ayuso has also promised “€40 million to employ all the health professionals necessary until at least the end of winter”. 

This staff “reinforcement” effectively involves handing out more temporary work contracts to health workers that aren’t working full time.

“We’re going to ask the recruitment companies for their collaboration to help us test their employees,” Ayuso explained.

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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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