Four of the deep-freezers at the Blood and Tissue Bank will be used to store and preserve hundreds of thousands of covid-19 vaccines at 70 degrees below zero. The public company is the best prepared space in Catalonia to store part of the 900,000 initial doses, probably from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which will be received in the first quarter of 2021. As explained this Friday by the Deputy Director-General for Health Promotion, Carmen Cabezas, only one of the two doses administered needs this deep-freezing and, therefore, many of the vaccines that will arrive will be distributed immediately, without the need to keep them in these large cold storage spaces.
With the first 900,000 vaccines that the Government expects to receive in January, some 450,000 people - a maximum of 470,000 - will be able to start immunizing. This includes people in old people's homes, health professionals, and severely disabled people, and will go on until March, according to the Health Department's vaccination plan. "The health system is ready to start vaccinating when the first doses arrive in January", said Minister Alba Vergés. The Minister of Health stressed that the government has bought ten million syringes for this cross-sectional vaccination campaign.
The first vaccines that will arrive, a priori, would be those of the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna, and also that of Oxford-AstraZeneca, according to the agreements of conditioned pre-purchase of the European Union for the member states. The three are still in review, but Cabezas has emphasized the importance that everybody understands that those authorized by the European Agency of Medicines and those that will arrive in Catalonia will be safe. "More than 250 groups in the world have been developing vaccine candidates for nine months, ranging from more classic proposals to more innovative ones, such as those that encode the surface of the virus protein", explained the public health expert.
Cabezas added that in no case do the vaccines transmit the disease and that, despite the fact that in record time, all the candidates have passed each of the safety phases, both pre-clinical and clinical, and have been tested on many volunteers, some of whom belong to risk groups, such as chronically ill people or people over 65.
The population will not choose
The fact that pharmaceutical companies with very advanced candidates started producing vaccines early will speed up the process of delivering doses, provided that the health authorities review it and give it the green light. "The data we have seen from the data sheets and documents approved in the UK support an efficacy of over 94%, and this gives us a lot of reassurance", said the Deputy Director-General for Health Promotion. This effectiveness, Cabezas insisted, puts the potential coronavirus vaccines at the level of those of hepatitis A, rotavirus or measles, currently the three best vaccines available.
Both Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines, the first two to be approved on the European schedule, follow messenger RNA technology, while the Oxford vaccine is slightly different and uses an adenovirus (a virus related to other minor respiratory problems). "If the Oxford vaccine passes the regulatory process, it will be used in a similar way to the other two, at medical discretion", Cabezas said. In this sense, the expert has stressed that the three of them will be similar, and has ruled out that the population can choose which vaccine to receive.
The general secretary of Health, Marc Ramentol, trusts that during the first trimester of the year half million people can be vaccinated in Catalonia. This will not yet turn the vaccine into a "disruptive element", since this happens when 70% of the population is immunized, but Ramentol has pointed out that health authorities expect it to reduce infections and, therefore, reduce the impact of the pandemic.
"Vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel, even though we have to be aware that we will still be living with the epidemic for many months", explained Vergés. The acting president, Pere Aragonès, has recognized that "everybody is exhausted of the restrictions", but has assured that at the moment there is no alternative. "In the last stretch, we cannot relax. It would be the worst time to do so. In a few weeks we will begin to store vaccines and vaccinate, and in a few months we will have protected a large part of the population", he said.