Health plans to allow under-60s to choose whether they want to receive the second dose from Pfizer or AstraZeneca

Vergés opposes combining vaccines and estimates that the change in criteria would mean delaying 90,000 new appointments

3 min
Mass vaccinations with AstraZeneca at the Faculty of Geography and History of the UB.

BarcelonaSolomonic decision. The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, has announced that the Spanish Bioethics Committee will study whether the 2 million people under the age of 60 who received the first dose from AstraZeneca - such as teachers and police officers - can decide whether they will receive the second injection from the same producer or whether they accept the administration of a booster dose from Pfizer, as agreed yesterday by the Public Health Commission. The ministry has referred this consultation to the body after a dozen autonomous communities - including Catalonia and Madrid - have opposed the combination of vaccines. In fact, on Tuesday, the Health Ministry left the door open to this possibility "in view of the exceptional circumstances" and in anticipation of this reaction from the autonomous governments. The Andalusian Minister of Health, Jesús Aguirre, has even assured unilaterally that this group will receive the second dose from AstraZeneca next week.

It will be up to the committee, however, to decide whether or not it is acceptable for those under 60 who are reluctant to receive the Pfizer vaccine to sign an informed consent document - mandatory before any medical intervention that may affect their health - in order to receive the second dose from AstraZeneca. "It is not a matter of choice: the decision of the Public Health Commission is to vaccinate with Pfizer and only in the case of those who do not want to receive it, to give them the option of receiving AstraZeneca", Darias explained, insisting that other countries such as France, Sweden and Finland have already been doing this for weeks. The ball is now in the court of the Bioethics Committee, which will have to analyse the suitability of the measure and, if it is given the green light, set the conditions under which it will be allowed. The Bioethics Committee is a consultative body created in 2007 to issue reports, proposals and recommendations on ethical and social issues - some of them controversial - related to health sciences.

The Catalan Minister of Health, Alba Vergés, said that the ministry's decision to vaccinate with Pfizer would mean delaying 90,000 new appointments for vaccinations for the 50-59 and 70-79 age groups, and described the ministry's management of the vaccine as "a regrettable episode". The constant changes in criteria, she said, have sent "messages of mistrust to the population" despite the fact that the vaccine is "safe" and is endorsed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the international scientific community. The department is in favour of completing the vaccination of those who have already received a dose from AstraZeneca with the same producer and, for this reason, hours before the technical meeting of the Interterritorial Health Council, Vergés had already reported that Catalonia would position itself against the vaccine cocktail.

However, Vergés is not the only health authority to hold this view: as many as six other autonomous communities - Madrid, Andalusia, Galicia, Castilla y León, Murcia and Cantabria - have advocated administering AstraZeneca to the under-60s. Valencia was the only region to publicly state that it wanted to mix the two manufacturers' doses, while Castilla-La Mancha and Aragon abstained, although their governments have made it clear that they would prefer to use only AstraZeneca's dose.

Vaccinations by age

The vaccination campaign is progressing and at least 2,538,650 Catalans have already received a dose, i.e. 32.4% of the population. And 1,161,500 people (14.9% of the census) have already received the full regimen: they have received the single dose from Janssen, the two doses from Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca, or they are under 66 years of age who have already passed the infection and will only receive one injection, according to the protocol.

It will be in July, in principle, when the age-based vaccination will be eliminated and mass immunisation will begin: then the shifts corresponding to those between 16 and 39 years of age will have to be opened and some 2.2 million Catalans will be able to receive the vaccine.

Thanks to the vaccination, Catalan hospitals have managed to reduce the number of covid patients admitted to the ward to less than a thousand: on Wednesday there were 999. In addition, the intensive care units (ICU) are also gradually being vacated: in one week 57 beds have been freed up, from 421 seriously ill patients on 11 May to the current 364.

Vaccinations at Camp Nou

Health also announced on Wednesday that the Camp Nou will open on Thursday, 27 May, as a vaccination point from Monday to Friday and by appointment. The department will set up Sala Berlin with four boxes initially for about twenty days with the idea of administering 2,500 doses a week. The care coordination will be carried out by the Hospital Clínic and the Eixample Primary Health Care Consortium (CAPSBE) and the Sarrià Primary Health Care Centre. Health sources explain that it will not be a mass vaccination centre, but rather "an emblematic point to raise public awareness of the need for vaccination".