The AstraZeneca second-dose mess
The Spanish Ministry of Health has decided to further delay the decision on what to do with people under the age of 60 who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca. The decision is taking so long that some of those immunised will have exceeded the 12-week limit between the first and second dose set by the manufacturer. The reason is that the ministry wants to wait for the results of a clinical trial with 600 people that is being carried out by the Carlos III Health Institute to check that a first dose of AstraZeneca can be combined with a second dose of Pfizer. The problem is that if the 12-week period established by AstraZeneca is exceeded, there is a risk that the immunising effect of the first dose will be lost.
It should be kept in mind that in Spain there are two million people, 200,000 of them in Catalonia, under 60 years of age who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca (health workers, teachers, essential workers, etc.). And that the European Medicines Agency has recommended following the guidelines set by the pharmaceutical company despite admitting that some cases of thrombosis directly related to the vaccine have been detected. Some countries, such as France and Germany, are already supplying the second dose directly with Pfizer, and this is also the criterion defended by the Catalan health authorities.
It must be taken into account that these days we are seeing that there is a direct relationship between the percentage of the vaccinated population and economic recovery. And that delaying vaccination can cause more deaths by covid than any side effect caused by vaccines. Nor is it understandable that, to compensate for the doubts with AstraZeneca, Pfizer doses were not authorized to be spaced out, as Catalonia demanded. It does not seem that the ministry has among its priorities to accelerate vaccination to the maximum, which is what all experts recommend to win the battle against the virus.
And the fact is that immunisation is directly related not only to the lifting of restrictions and the gradual return to normality, which in Catalonia we will begin to see from 9 May, but also to the economic resumption. This Friday we learned that the European Union, where vaccination has been slower than in other parts of the world, has suffered a 0.6% drop in GDP in the first quarter of the year (Spain's has fallen a 0.5%). Meanwhile, the United States is already in the green and has grown by 0.4%. The most important thing, however, is that the United States plans to return to pre-pandemic activity this summer, while Europe will have to wait until next year. This delayed recovery, which has been seen in previous crises, could result in millions of job losses and increased inequality and poverty if action is not taken immediately.
In the case of the covid crisis there is not much debate among experts: the two pillars of recovery are mass vaccination and stimulus policy. If Europe does not speed up with vaccines and European funds, it will once again be at the tail end of the recovery.