Doctors urge Spain to use AstraZeneca vaccine more broadly

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A resident awaits the visit of her family behind glass meant to protect against COVID-19 at DomusVi nursing home in Leganes, Spain, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. Spain is preparing to tighten some pandemic restrictions on movement during the approaching Easter holiday, which is a traditional period for family visits. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

BARCELONA – Chafing under Spain’s sluggish vaccination rollout, regional health authorities and doctors are urging the central government in Madrid to administer the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to both young and old.

While other European countries like Germany, France, Italy and Greece have expanded use of vaccine made by the British-Swedish company to inoculate elderly patients, Spain has stuck with administering it to those 55 and under. However, Spanish officials are indicating that they'll rethink their strategy,

Critics say Spain’s reluctance to use AstraZeneca, combined with shipment delays of all three vaccines authorized for use in the EU, is threatening to leave vulnerable people exposed. The EU so far has approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, which all require two shots for each person. EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency, is considering whether to approve the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Thursday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are currently administered to those over 80 in Spain, while essential workers 55 and under, including teachers and police officers, are getting AstraZeneca jabs.

Regional health authorities both in Madrid's central region and northeast Catalonia publicly spoke out for the government to use AstraZeneca for older people.

“This situation has greatly compromised our vaccination strategy, ” regional health authorities in Catalonia said in an open letter published in the Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper. “There are, for example, teachers and police officers over 55 years old who still don’t have a chance to get a vaccine, while their younger colleagues already do."

Their counterparts in Madrid's region echoed the message. Regional health chief Enrique Ruiz said in a letter to the Health Ministry that releasing more vaccines would allow “the doses that are going to essential workers, like teachers or law enforcement officers, cover all those of a working age.”

Responding to the pressure, Health Minister Carolina Darias said that the government’s panel of vaccine experts would meet on Thursday to assess whether to allow use of the AstraZeneca shot for those up to 65.