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COVID-19 VACCINES

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

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.

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)

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.

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.

“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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COVID-19 VACCINES

Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Spain’s Health Ministry on Thursday announced there will be a second Covid-19 booster shot offered to all age groups in the country, with the rollout likely to begin this autumn.

Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to 'entire population'

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday announced that the country’s Public Health Commission, the body responsible for advising the ministry on Spain’s Covid vaccination strategy, has said there should be a fourth dose offered to all of Spain’s 47 million inhabitants. 

What hasn’t been fully decided yet is when the rollout will begin, although Darias did hint that it’s likely to take place during the autumn. 

“We’re waiting for the arrival of new vaccines adapted to Covid-19 variants by that date, as stated in the contracts we have signed with the pharmaceutical companies,” Darias said on La Sexta TV channel.

The decision also still requires full approval from the Public Health Commission. There’s unlikely to be a u-turn on the matter, although Spanish health authorities have at different stages of the pandemic taken some time to execute decisions they initially announced. 

Until now, only people over 80, those in care homes and people classified as vulnerable (cancer, HIV, transplant, dialysis patients) have been approved to have a second booster dose in Spain, which is milder than the initial two-shot vaccination given in 2021.

In April 2022, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) considered that at that time it was too early to speak of a fourth dose for all age groups, but they have given the go ahead to high-risk groups.

Around 50 percent of Spain’s population has had one Covid-19 booster dose (third dose), but the rates are lower among younger people.

Spain’s Public Health Commission is in favour of waiting to see how the country’s epidemiological situation evolves and for the new messenger RNA vaccines adapted to the new variants to be made available. 

These new serums are expected to be ready in October and the two pharmaceutical companies developing them, Pfizer and Moderna, have already submitted the results of their clinical trials to the European Medicines Agency.

Although for the past months Spain has only been counting Covid-19 infections in people aged 60 and over as well as serious cases, health authorities have recorded an increase in recent weeks. 

On Tuesday, they confirmed there were 36,133 new infections over the previous 7 days and 131 Covid deaths.

As part of its change of strategy towards the pandemic in recent months, the Spanish government has essentially treated Covid-19 like another endemic disease similar to the flu, deciding to remove quarantines for asymptomatic and mild cases, and after a long wait, relaxed indoor mask wearing rules.

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