Catalonia is confident of having 70% of the population vaccinated in July

The virus is on the wane thanks to vaccines, which drastically reduce cases among the over-60s

4 min
A nurse preparing a dose of covid vaccine.

Barcelona"If the goals for the arrival of doses are met, 70% of Catalans will be vaccinated in July," acting vice president Pere Aragonès announced on Tuesday. After the arrival of half a million vaccines this week alone, Aragonès has been confident that the next deliveries will be large enough to intensify the vaccination campaign and make it massive. In fact, he recalled that throughout the month of May twice as many doses will arrive as in April and noted that the Catalan government's forecast is to achieve the protection of 80% of the population over 60 years in the coming weeks, so that the "risk" of suffering an epidemic outbreak is reduced "drastically" coinciding with the lifting of many of the restrictions. So far, 1,947,000 people have been vaccinated with a first dose.

In fact, there is room for optimism in Catalonia. Infections are decreasing at a slow but steady pace and epidemiological indicators confirm that the curve is reaffirming its downward trend after having stayed stable for fifteen days at 10,500 cases per week. The week from April 24-30 Public Health diagnosed 10,100 infections and this week it is on course for about 9,500. Experts are clear that this change in trend is partly due to the vaccination campaign, which, together with the maintenance of some restrictions on social interaction, has decreased contagion.

"Good news: we can confirm the downward trend of the epidemic in Catalonia. Since last Thursday the pattern of consolidation of cases points to a weekly drop of 10%," the UPC's Computational Biology and Complex Systems Group (Biocom-SC), responsible for preparing the daily epidemiological reports, announced last Tuesday.

Fewer infections among those vaccinated

Cumulative incidence over the last 14 days in all age groups is still high, 272 infections per 100,000 inhabitants (268 cases on May 3), but the spread among vaccinated groups has fallen dramatically. The most obvious case is among the over-80s, where cumulative incidence is half the Catalan average. More than 84% of this population group have received the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and in the last updated period (from 16 to 30 April) only 132 positives per 100,000 inhabitants have been detected. A month ago there were 175 cases, 24% more.

Accumulated incidence in Catalonia over the last 14 days by age groups
Contagions per 100,000 inhabitants.

The percentage of tests that come back positive is also falling among those aged between 60 and 79 years, the groups that are now being vaccinated. The Department of Health hopes to have finished immunising them with the first dose before the weekend. Of people in their seventies, 70.3% are already partially protected and only 19.8% have completed the vaccination schedule, but the incidence has been declining steadily for at least fifteen days. Last Friday 177 cases per 100,000 inhabitants were diagnosed, while in the third week of April approximately 220 infections were being detected (19.5% more).

However, it is those in their 60s who have a more intense rate of reduction of cases: three out of five people between 60 and 69 years have received the first injection of AstraZeneca and positives have fallen from 250 cases per 100,000 inhabitants at the beginning of April to the current 178 (28% less). According to Biocom-SC, the report clearly shows "the importance of vaccination", which has managed to halve incidence in the over-80s and is making incidence "fall sharply" among the over-60s.

Ready to vaccinate 50-year-olds

Although most cases occur in age groups between 15 and 49 and vaccines cannot reduce this incidence directly - mass immunisation has not yet begun - experts conclude that vaccination of older population is acting as a "firewall" against transmission within households. Vaccines are not sterilising - they do not completely eliminate contagion - but they reduce the possibility of contagion within a bubble of coexistence. "Vaccines also help reduce incidence in vaccinated groups and push the epidemic towards lower incidences, despite conditions of social interaction staying the same," explained from Biocom-SC.

According to experts epidemiological indicators also make it difficult for there to be a sudden spike in hospitalisations. Health authorities say that with the current rate of vaccination the risk of dying from covid is reduced by 50% to 75% and chances of ending up in hospital decrease by between 30% and 50%. As for intensive care units (ICU), so far vaccination of the over 60s prevents between 17% and 37% of admissions.

To reduce the occupation in ICUs, however, it will be necessary to vaccinate the age group between 50 and 59 years. This will begin soon for the general population, according to government sources, and has already begun in hospitals for people who have serious pathologies, such as cancer, autoimmune diseases or are on dialysis. This explains why 4.5% of this group has received one dose and 2.3% have completed the vaccination schedule with two doses.

Reduction of tests for symptoms

With these 10,000 weekly infections, which will be 9,500 by the end of the week, the report prepared by the Agency for Health Quality and Evaluation (AQuAS), Public Health and Biocom-SC notes that cases will not increase in the coming days. The forecasts are in line with the trend indicated by antigen tests performed in primary care centres on people with symptoms - a good indicator to anticipate increases or decreases in infections - which days ago advanced this change in trend.

However, for unknown reasons, this drop had not materialised. While on 26 April 3,394 rapid tests were carried out and 10.3% were positive, about 673 infections in one day, on Friday 30 April a total of 3,082 were made, of which 9.2% were positive, 391 cases in one day. However, that week still did not see a reduction in detected infections.

The last week with updated data Catalunya made more than 188,300 tests between antigen tests and PCRs and, even so, the positivity rate still remained around 6%, a little above the maximum required by the World Health Organization (WHO), which sets 5% as the threshold to have controlled the spread of the virus. On these conclusions, the Biocom-SC has advanced that in the coming days it will have to analyse in detail the possible explanations for the drop in infections, because vaccination by age can greatly affect the distribution of symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, and with this the interpretation of the data.