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Spain approves fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose for over-80s

The Local Spain
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Spain approves fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose for over-80s
Araceli Hidalgo, 97, was the first person to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in Spain. She is now eligible for a second booster dose along with all other over-80s and care home residents in the country. Pepe Zamora / POOL / AFP)

Spanish health authorities have decided to offer a second Covid-19 booster dose to people over 80 and those in care homes, as coronavirus deaths still number around 50 a day despite only serious cases and infections in over-60s being recorded.

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Spain’s Health Ministry on Thursday June 9th confirmed that a second Covid-19 booster (fourth jab) will be made available to the country’s geriatric population.

Spanish health authorities have not specified when exactly when the rollout will begin, even though that decision has been in the pipeline since April,  instead stating that “the most appropriate moment must be established according to the epidemiological situation”.

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.

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In early April, 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 initial two-dose vaccination), but the rates are lower among younger people.

The Spanish government has changed its stance towards the pandemic in recent months, 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 (only keeping tabs on over-60s and serious cases), removed quarantines for asymptomatic and mild cases, and after a long wait, relaxed indoor mask wearing rules.

But the coronavirus continues to circulate in Spain, with a number of epidemiologists arguing that Spain has undergone a ‘hidden’ seventh wave this spring, with between 34 and 57 deaths a day since May 23rd, official data shows.

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“It’s strange to have an excess in mortality rates outside of the winter season ," epidemiologist Salvador Peiró told online daily 20 minutos, while acknowledging that infections are gradually falling again. 

According to figures from the Carlos III Health Institute, since March 28th 2022,  25,109 people aged 60 or over have been hospitalised with severe Covid-19 symptoms, rates comparable to those of the sixth wave when millions in Spain were infected over the Christmas period.

"Immunity levels decline - hence the need for a fourth dose,” Juan Antonio Pineda of Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology argues.

 “SARS-CoV-2 aggravates other pathologies and, as it seems that we are at the end of the seventh wave, it is at the end of the waves when the highest proportion of deaths are recorded.”

Nevertheless, most experts agree that the most likely scenario for the future is that Covid-19 will become a less serious endemic disease "with seasonal and flu-like symptoms".

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