The vaccine take-up rate was much lower than expected. / E.P.

Only four out of ten children aged 5 to 12 have had the Covid vaccine

Six months since the campaign to vaccinate children began in Spain, the figures are far below the targets set by the government

ÁLVARO SOTO Madrid

Spain’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is often held up as an example to the world, but that is not exactly the case with children. Six months after the campaign to vaccinate youngsters in the country began, only 44.4% of those aged between five and 12 are fully vaccinated, according to a report from the Ministry of Health.

There are considerable differences between regions: the highest figure is in Galicia, where 67.8% of children are fully vaccinated, followed by Extremadura with 65.3% and Asturias with 61.8%. However, in Catalonia (31%), the Balearic islands (26.7%), Ceuta (24.2%) and Melilla (19.1%) the figures are well below government targets. The Ministry of Health wanted 70% of children to have had their first jab in February, but so far only 54.9% have received one.

During the winter the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, made repeated calls for parents to be responsible and have their children vaccinated, but she appears resigned to the situation now and Pfizer, the only company whose vaccine for children is authorised by the European Medications Agency, has not sent any supplies for several months.

Of the 5,160,180 doses supplied, nearly one and a half million have not been administered, so the ministry has started donating them to other countries (254,000 have already been sent to Honduras).

Experts say there are various reasons for the low take-up rate. One is that the vaccine is new, so there was concern about its safety and effectiveness, but the vaccination campaign for children also coincided with the onset of the Omicron variant. Many children caught the virus and were not badly affected by it, so parents decided vaccination was not necessary.

However, Francisco Álvarez, the coordinator for the Vaccine Advisory Committee of the Spanish Paediatrics Association, said the low take-up rate is very disappointing.

“With the levels of vaccination we achieved in adults we thought the campaign for children would also be a success, but now we have the impression that parents are no longer afraid of the virus,” he said, while insisting that “the best way to avoid Covid-19 is through vaccination”.