Catalonia redoubles pressure on Health Ministry to remove the age limit of the AstraZeneca vaccine

Vergés and Argimon threaten with the possibility of disobeying the State: "Either they take action or we will"

3 min
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

Barcelona"Either they take action or we will". This is the final warning issued by the Catalan Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, and the Secretary of Public Health, Josep Maria Argimon, in an opinion article published in the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia to demand that the Ministry of Health "have some backbone" and be able to remove the 55-year age limit it maintains for administering AstraZeneca's vaccine. The highest representatives of the Catalan Ministry of Health defend, along the lines already argued by the president of the Col-legi de Metges, Jaume Padrós, that there are ethical and clinical criteria that make this change necessary. Padrós, in fact, already guaranteed the support of the doctors to the Govern if it decided to go ahead and administer this vaccine without age limitation in order to immunise the population at risk more quickly. A possibility that the government now seems to have on the table.

At the moment, however, the heads of the Ministry of Health redouble the pressure on the state government so that it is them who approve a change that certain autonomous communities have been asking for weeks. The Government argues that all age restrictions should be lifted, or at least be extended to 65 years, as other European countries have done, such as the United Kingdom, where 20 million people have already been immunized.

Taking into account that people between 56 and 78 years old are more likely to end up admitted in intensive care units (ICU) if they catch the coronavirus, Argimon already defended yesterday that by vaccinating people who are over 55 years old with AstraZeneca, 393 hospitalizations could have been avoided in the last three months. And, given this evidence, he again urged the State "to rethink" the criterion to prioritize the most vulnerable group and apply the model used by most European countries, which have changed the age criterion for this vaccine. "We are talking about avoiding deaths and it makes no sense to limit a vaccine that is highly effective within the age groups that end up being hospitalized the most", he condemned.

In today's article, signed together with Minister Vergés, he reiterates that countries such as France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Greece, Belgium and Andorra have already eliminated the age limit of 55 years old for this vaccine, and stresses that a preliminary study done in Scotland has shown that it has an efficacy comparable to that of Pfizer and reduces by 81% hospitalizations of people who are over 80 years. Argimon and Vergés regret, in this sense, that the Spanish government is "one of the few" that maintains the veto for older people and ensure that the limitation complicates the vaccination strategy among essential groups, as well as meaning that older police officers and teachers have not been able to be vaccinated yet.

Until now, the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, has always refused to remove the age limit for administering the AstraZeneca vaccine because of "prudence". The minister is committed to "go along with the scientific evidence" and recalls that the clinical trial of the laboratory was carried out with people who were under 55 years of age. The Catalan doctors describe the state's position as "unacceptable" and claim that it violates the prioritization criteria set by the European Union. Among other reasons, they state that it is depriving people at high risk of receiving a safe and effective vaccine.

"Spain will eventually understand that it has to authorise the use of AstraZeneca for people over 65. So far, it is erring on the side of caution by cutting off administration at the age of 55", explained Antoni Trilla, head of the preventive medicine and epidemiology department at Hospital Clínic, who is a member of the covid committee advising the Spanish government, a few days ago. The epidemiologist assured that the British vaccine, which is produced and supplied more frequently, is very effective for all age groups where it is already being massively used, such as in the UK: "People who receive it are perfectly covered".