Supplies of coronavirus vaccines have become so scarce that Spain’s Madrid region will stop all new jabs for at least 10 days, a senior official said on Wednesday, as Catalonia complained that its supply was also running out.
The Madrid decision appears to be the first such break in the EU, highlighting the bloc’s growing problems with the distribution of the vaccine.
Ignacio Aguado, deputy head of the Madrid regional government, said the shortages of BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – the only ones so far approved by the EU – meant that it was impossible at the “current rate” to achieve national and European objectives to vaccinate 70% of the population by the end of June. Instead, “we would have to wait until 2023 to get to this level,” he added.
Mr Aguado said that due to the scarcity of vaccines, the Madrid region will stop new vaccinations for at least the rest of this week and the rest of the week, instead giving second doses to those who have already received injections.
Spain and the EU have chosen not to follow the UK in delaying second injections, instead deciding to issue booster shots within the advised three-week deadline. “If we don’t, the virus itself could mutate, become resistant and prolong the fight against the pandemic,” Aguado said. Madrid have already halted vaccinations for medical staff due to shortages, while maintaining them for those over 80 and those at risk.
Mr. Aguado called Carolina Darias, the new minister of health who took office on Wednesday, to make vaccine procurement his top priority. “We need more doses and we need them now,” he said. “We have to move land, sea and air to get them.”
Spain again became the country in the EU with the highest coronavirus infection rate, reporting nearly 900 cases per 100,000 population in the past 14 days – more than three times the level of a month.
Catalonia added that its own vaccine stock could run out by Thursday. “Tomorrow the freezers will be empty,” said Josep Maria Argimon, a Catalan health official, as the region cited delays from Moderna, smaller shipments than expected by Pfizer and confusion over a rival vaccine AstraZeneca, which is in a contract dispute with the EU.
Spain’s health policy is driven by the country’s 17 regions, although during the first wave of the epidemic, from March to June, the central government took direct control.
So far, the central government has boasted of having one of the best vaccine distribution results in the EU, achieving the second highest vaccination rate among member states after Denmark. He said he received doses of 1.35 m and administered 1.3 m, or 96% of the total.