Spain set to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to over-80s

As Spain prepares to remove masks in most indoor public spaces, health authorities are planning to soon offer a second Covid-19 booster dose to people over 80 and those in care homes.

Spain set to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to over-80s
The Spanish government wants to focus its efforts on reducing Covid-19 infections in high risk groups rather than in the general population overall. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

According to a report by Spain’s Vaccine Committee published on April 18th, Spanish health authorities will most probably start to offer a second booster dose to over-80s and care home residents in early May 2022.

Until now, the fourth dose has only been made available to around 120,000 people in Spain classified as vulnerable, including people with cancer, HIV patients, those who have had a transplant or are receiving dialysis.

The decision, which still has to be finalised by Spain’s Health Ministry, comes as the national government prepares to scrap the rule on April 20th which requires mask wearing in indoor spaces.  

READ MORE: Where will you still need to wear a mask indoors in Spain?

On April 6th, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) backed a second booster dose for over-80s, but added that it was “too early to consider using a fourth dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer’s Comirnaty and Moderna’s Spikevax) in the general population”.

Around 50 percent of Spain’s population has had a Covid-19 booster dose (less potent than the inital two-dose vaccination), but the rates are lower among younger people.

The Spanish government has changed its stance towards the pandemic in recent weeks, essentially treating Covid-19 like another endemic disease similar to the flu, and focusing its efforts on reducing infections in high-risk groups rather than among the general population as whole.

Sánchez’s administration has decided to stop counting and reporting on each and every case,  removed quarantines for asymptomatic and mild cases, and after a long wait, relaxed indoor mask wearing rules (in force from April 20th). 

Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy and France have already started offering an extra booster dose to its elderly population and those with weakened immune systems.

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EU watchdog starts review of Spain’s Hipra Covid-19 booster jab

The EU medicines watchdog on Tuesday began a rolling review of a Covid-19 booster vaccine made by Spanish pharmaceutical firm Hipra, saying early results showed it was effective against the Omicron strain.

EU watchdog starts review of Spain's Hipra Covid-19 booster jab

“Preliminary results suggest that the immune response with Covid-19 vaccine Hipra may be effective against SARS-CoV-2, including variants of concern such as Omicron,” the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said in a statement.

Going by the brand name PHH-1V, the Hipra shot will now be scrutinised by the Amsterdam-based EMA, before its maker can apply for full authorisation for use within the 27-member bloc.

The EMA did not say how long the review would take.

It is being developed by Hipra as a booster vaccine for adults who have already been fully vaccinated with a different COVID-19 vaccine.

PHH-1V is a protein-based vaccine “that prepares the body to defend itself” against Covid-19, the EMA said.

The vaccine contains two types of spike proteins, which SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes Covid-19 — uses to enter human cells.

When a person is administered the vaccine, their immune system will identify the two types of spike proteins as foreign and then produce natural defences — antibodies and T-cells — against them.

“If, later on, the vaccinated person comes into contact with SARS-CoV-2, the immune system will recognise the spike protein on the virus and be prepared to attack it,” the EMA said.

Covid-19 infections are again surging in parts of the world, blamed particularly on the spread of the highly transmissible BA.2 variant of Omicron.

The EU regulator has so far approved five Covid vaccines for use in the EU — Pfizer and Moderna, which use messenger RNA technology, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which use viral vector technology, and Novavax, which is based on a spike protein produced in a laboratory.