Spain touts mass vaccine plan, sees light at tunnel’s end

Spain touts mass vaccine plan, sees light at tunnel’s end
The coronavirus vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech has been found to be 90% effective in preventing people from contracting the virus.

After months of turmoil and more than 42,000 deaths, Spain appeared to see the light at the end of the tunnel on Friday, announcing ambitious plans to vaccinate much of the population by mid-2021.

“Our forecasts, under almost any reasonable scenario, show that a very substantial part of the Spanish population will be able to be vaccinated, with all guarantees, in the first half of the year,” said the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez.

With the numbers gradually improving, suggesting that Spain has passed the peak of the second wave, Sánchez said the government had finalized “a comprehensive vaccination plan” that would be presented at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.

The government, he said, had been working on the plan since September, making Spain the first within the European Union, along with Germany, to fully map out such an immunization scheme.

“We are ready,” he said, noting that Spain had an “important logistics network” to ensure supplies were distributed to its population of 47 million people.

His words came as major pharmaceutical companies approached vaccines against the virus that has infected more than 55 million people and caused more than 1.3 million deaths worldwide, according to an AFP tally.

US giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have taken the lead together with US firm Moderna, and the EU said it expected both vaccines to be approved by the end of the year.

Last month, Health Minister Salvador Illa said the government had authorized the purchase of 31.5 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine that is currently being developed by the University of Oxford and British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

The government is also awaiting the outcome of Pfizer / BioNTech’s bid for US regulatory approval for its vaccine, after large-scale trial data showed it was around 95 percent effective against Covid- 19.

Earlier this week, the Spanish drug agency AEMPS approved the country’s first phase three trial for another Covid-19 vaccine, one of nine nations participating in the process.

‘The situation is stable’

Spain has been severely affected by the pandemic, suffering more than 1.5 million confirmed infections, the second highest number in the EU after France. The virus has also claimed 42,619 lives in Spain, the fourth highest figure after the United Kingdom, Italy and France.

The health crisis has also caused a devastating economic slowdown, hitting Spain’s all-important tourism sector.

IMF forecasters predict that its economy will contract 12.8 percent this year, making it the worst-hit country in the world’s advanced economies.

Although many restrictions remain in place, including a night curfew and limitations on interregional travel, Spain has managed to avoid a second blockade, as has been imposed on several other European nations.

And the measures appear to be working, with the 14-day incidence rate declining and the northeast region of Catalonia gearing up for Monday’s reopening of bars and restaurants that have been closed since October 16.

Although the pressure on accident and emergency services remains “significant,” health professionals say it is far from the extremes of the first wave.

“Back then it was horrible, like in wartime, but now it’s not even close,” Enrique Sánchez, from the SUMMA ambulance services in Madrid, recently told AFP.

These days they tend to see milder cases of Covid-19 and, unlike spring, “we are not short of protective material,” he said.

“The situation is stable,” agreed SUMMA spokesman Víctor Escudero, and said that the service “did not attend as many critically ill patients at home as in the first wave.”

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