Teenagers between 12 and 15 offered vaccine
Catalan Government now endorses vaccination in summer resorts to use up excess vaccines
BarcelonaThe vaccination of the 300,000 teenagers aged between 12 and 15 years who live in Catalonia is imminent. The president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, has announced that teenagers born between 2006 and 2009 will be able to ask for an appointment to be vaccinated from this Wednesday through the Department of Health's website and that the jabs will be given at the various vaccination points set up throughout the country, among which are sports halls, community centres, hospitals and primary health care centers (CAP). At the moment these young people will only receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the same one that is being administered to youngsters aged 16-18, although the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has given the green light to the use of the Moderna on teenagers aged 12-17.
Unlike the campaign so far with 16 and 17-year-olds, those between 12 and 15 will have to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian to receive the jab. In addition, those born in 2009 must be past their 12th birthday, as the EMA has not authorised any vaccine for children under 12. Aragonès stated the Health Department would give more details later on.
Minors "been especially hard hit by the pandemic and restrictions" in the past year, Aragonès has remarked. Therefore, he has appealed to this age group and their families to ask for an appointment as soon as possible and get vaccinated to start classes more safely. "We have to start the [school] year with the highest possible immunity in schools. It is a group that we need to be immunized," insisted the president. The goal is to ensure "the proper functioning" of secondary schools and vocational training.
The return to the classroom is precisely one of the four arguments that Quique Bassat, a paediatrician and epidemiologist at Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), uses to justify the need to advance in the immunisation of teenagers. "If we want to go back to teaching classes safely despite the spread of the delta variant, which is so infectious, we have to vaccinate them," he explains, adding that the goal should be to control the pandemic so as not to have to have classes as small as last year's.
Reducing severe cases and long covid
"A month and a half ago I would have had my doubts about whether vaccinating the youngest was an emergency, but after seeing that one in eight cases of the pandemic occurred in the month of July, the arguments in favour of vaccination gain strength," Bassat says. Although children and teenagers usually present mild symptoms of the disease, the expert stresses that vaccination at this age is important because it is still unknown what course the virus and the disease it causes may have in the coming years and how it could affect the youngest.
In fact, it is estimated that between 5% and 10% of children who become infected with the virus may eventually develop sequelae related to long covid. "Teenagers need to be protected individually: although severe cases of covid in this age group are anecdotal, they are increasing as infections grow. In this fifth wave we have seen that paediatric hospitals have had to treat some diseases that could have been avoided with vaccines," says the paediatrician.
Beyond their individual protection, Bassat stresses that to have "a functional control" of the pandemic - what is popularly known as herd immunity - with the delta variant in circulation, teenagers will also have to be vaccinated: "It's a question of numbers: if we need 85% or 90% of the population vaccinated, we must include teenagers necessarily or else we won't get there".
The Government's intention was to vaccinate this age group in high schools, as proposed by the Departments of Health and Education to facilitate its organisation once the course had begun or a few weeks before its start. For the moment, however, vaccination will start in conventional vaccination points. "If we start in August, obviously we will not do it in high schools, but if it is in September, it is likely that we will vaccinate our young people in high schools," admitted now two months ago the head of the Education Department, Josep Gonzàlez-Cambray.
Bassat does not rule out that the vaccination strategy for teenagers should be complemented by the deployment of teams of nurses in classrooms, but admits that it is a good idea to vaccinate the most vulnerable teenagers or those who are most interested in getting vaccinated so as not to hinder the campaign. "There are many young people who will not get vaccinated at the moment because they are on holiday but others who will. I do not think it is very credible that we will have 20% or 30% of teenagers vaccinated in August," he says.
Slowdown in immunisation
Vaccination is starting to slow down a bit because of the holidays and now the supply of doses is slightly higher than the demand. The excess vaccines stored in the Catalan fridges has pushed the Government into opening the call for the youngest and, in fact, and for the first time since the campaign began, the Catalan executive has admitted that there is a delay in the inoculation of doses due to the summer period and the fifth wave, which has left at least 194,000 infections in a month and a half. The week from 17 to 23 July 360,421 doses were administered, and between 24 and 30 July, 414,737. These figures are significantly lower than the 557,198 vaccines administered three weeks ago or the 677,366 in early July.
The spokeswoman for the Catalan government, Patricia Plaja, has admitted that at this point there are about 80,000 doses available. She urged the population to make an appointment to get vaccinated, even if they are on holidays, out of "individual and collective responsibility". The spokeswoman recalled that although "a bulk" of the population may be away from their usual residence, they can get vaccinated wherever they spend the summer season. This message contrasts with the one sent by Catalan Health Minister Josep Maria Argimon, who wanted to avoid summer resorts getting saturated. Plaja has admitted that this change could put "more pressure" on the health system but has pointed out that the population will have to get the second dose wherever they receive the first.
At his point, 58% of the Catalan population has been vaccinated with the full schedule, while 65% of citizens have received at least a first dose.