Araceli Hidalgo, the first person in Spain to have the Covid vaccine. / afp

Concern over low fourth Covid jab take-up in Spain

Experts are calling on those who have not had their third or fourth dose to do so because infections are expected to rise after the Christmas festivities and warn 'the pandemic is still with us'

ÁLVARO SOTO MADRID.

On 27 December 2020 Araceli Hidalgo, 96, a resident at a care home in Guadalajara, became the first person in Spain to receive the vaccine against Covid-19. Two years later the country had a very high take-up of the second dose of the vaccine, but the percentage dropped when it came to the third dose and even more so with the fourth. Now, experts are asking the population – especially the most vulnerable and the over-60s – to go to their health centres for their second booster jab because infections are expected to rise considerably following the Christmas festivities.

In total, 104,045,019 vaccines against Covid have been given in Spain, according to the most recent figures from the Ministry of Health, and 40,718,957 people over the age of 12 have had two jabs. In the EU, only Portugal, Malta and Italy have higher figures. Estimates from the Spanish Vaccinology Association indicate that half a million lives have been saved by the vaccines, and its president, Jaime Jesús Pérez, says the campaign has been an “undeniable success”.

"The pandemic is still with us"

However, awareness about the importance of the Covid vaccines appears to have decreased, looking at the figures for those admitted to hospital and deaths from the virus. Although 82.8% of over-40s and 92.7% of over-70s had their third dose, there was a significant drop in the number of people who had the fourth one, despite it being adapted to combat the omicron variant. Only 54.9% of over-60s have had the fourth dose, although the take-up among the over-80s was higher at 82.6%. The figures are well below the experts’ objectives.

“It was easier in 2021 because people wanted the vaccine, but we need to make them realise that it is just as important now,” said Ángel Gil, a professor of Public Health at the Rey Juan Carlos university. “The pandemic is still with us,” he stressed, and the excess death rate for 2022 is expected to be high.

This year practically all preventive measures have been lifted and Covid figures are not being reported in the same way so many people believe the pandemic is over. Experts insist that the population needs to be made aware of the importance of having the fourth dose of the vaccine, especially the over-60s.

Doses will have to be destroyed

The drop in vaccine take-up has also had another consequence: Spain is going to have to destroy 14 million doses if they have not been used when their expiry date arrives. However, public health experts say this is not as bad as not having enough vaccines.

“What this shows is that we have no supply problems and anyone who wants the fourth dose will be able to have it,” Jaime Jesús Pérez insisted.