By Andrew Atkinson

SPAIN’S regions are focusing on vaccinating the 40-49 age group against Covid-19 as the fall in transmission rates continues to slow.

With the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants at 115, the regions are rushing to immunize younger people, who are at lower risk of developing a serious case of Covid-19 or dying from the disease, but play a key role in transmitting the virus due to their increased social activity.

Spain’s 17 regions are on track to vaccinating 40-49 age group against Covid-19.

This demographic is receiving the BioNTech-Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which are both based on RNA messenger technology, as well as the medication from Janssen, requiring one dose.

Which of these vaccines is administered to people in this age group depends on the availability of the doses in each region, which are responsible for their own vaccination drives and for containing the pandemic in their territories. Madrid is behind other regions, but have begun to send appointments out to the 40-49 age group and is scheduled to start administering vaccines to this segment.

The overall vaccination drive is continuing to gather pace. 5.1 million doses arrived in Spain w/c June 7 being the largest shipment since the campaign began in December, with 3.1 million administered.

A meeting of the central government’s second vaccination target revealed to have 10 million people fully vaccinated by the first week of June.

The schedule was to have five million people fully vaccinated by the first week of May, which was achieved.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 30 million vaccines have been administered and around 42% of the entire population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with approaching 50% of the over-16s.

“The vaccination drive is having a very important impact on the transmission of the disease,” said Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES).

“The incidence rate is not excessively low, but in some groups, it has fallen a lot.

“The incidence in the over-60s has fallen far below the incidence recorded in younger groups,” he said.

Most vulnerable groups have already been immunized with all nursing home residents and over-80s vaccinated.

Almost all of the 70-79 group are fully immunized and 92% of 60-69-year-olds have received at least one dose, although only 22.5% are fully protected. This age group was given the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which requires a three-month interval between the first and second jab, the longest period of the two-dose vaccines.

Most at-risk groups have received vaccines, and regions are focusing on completing the vaccination of the 50-59 year olds of which 76% have had at least one vaccine, moving on to the 40-49s, which is the largest demographic.

Some regions, such as Castilla-La Mancha and the Canary Islands, as well as the North African exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla, have already started vaccinating this age group.

In Ceuta, 65% of people aged 40-49 have received at least one vaccine, and the city has been authorized by the Health Ministry to vaccinate the 30-39 age group, who have not yet been included in the national vaccination strategy.

Madrid has made the slowest progress of all regions with respect to the vaccination of age groups, although only slightly below the national average.

The region has administered 89% of all vaccines received, compared to 90% with the Madrid government still only immunizing the 50-54 population.

Madrid had estimated it will not begin vaccinating the 40-49 age group until mid-June and the 30-39 population until the beginning of July.

“The delay is not serious,” said Dr José María Molero, the spokesperson for the infectious disease department of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine (Semfyc).

“The initial organisational problem of having only two mass-vaccination sites has been solved. I don’t know when the region fell behind, but I think this delay is due to the type of population that has been vaccinated,” he said.

“Madrid has a higher life expectancy and a greater population of senior age groups, as well as more cases of patients with disease that put them at high risk,” he added, in reference to people with medical conditions and vulnerable to Covid-19, such as cancer patients and transplant recipients, who were one of the first priority groups.

Regional health authorities have also been vaccinating other groups at high risk due to their social-economic situation or because they are difficult to locate, such as rough sleepers, irregular migrants, seasonal fruit pickers and sailors.

The Janssen vaccine, which is made by a subsidiary of the US multinational Johnson & Johnson, is being prioritised for people in these categories as only one dose of the medication is needed for full protection.

“According to the central Health Ministry, Spain is set to receive another three million vaccine doses which is expected to be quickly administered, given the current pace of the campaign, said Fernando Simón Director of the Health Ministry Coordination  centre for Health Alerts.

“This is going to allow us to return to the life we had before,” he added.

1,255,000 people were vaccinated on Saturday (June 5/6) and Sunday being the highest weekend number on record.

“More than 11 million people are fully vaccinated. Little by little, we are reaching the goal of vaccinating 70% of the Spanish population in summer,” he said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 80,000 people have died after testing positive for COVID-19.