Target of vaccinating 15 to 20 million people by summer is unachievable

Unless speed immunisation is boosted, vaccination will reach under half as many people as planned by the end of July

Chicken were counted before they hatched. This is what has happened with the big announcements about vaccination made by different governments of the European Union towards the end of last year - among them the Spanish government, perhaps the most daring and the most emphatic, with the exception of the UK. But then the UK is no longer in the EU, anyway.

At the end of November, the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, claimed that the objective was to have "a large part of the population" vaccinated before the summer: at that time, the figures were 15 and 20 million people. A well-intentioned but perhaps overly optimistic forecast, which now seems impossible to meet unless both the pace of immunisation and the supply of the already approved Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, and those expected to be approved in the next two months - Oxford/AstraZeneca in late January and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), presumably in late February - improve production prospects exponentially.

The challenge, in any case, is to vaccinate the maximum number of people (between 60% and 70% of the population is considered the critical level to start having a herd immunity, according to the president of the Spanish Association of Vaccinology, Amós García Rojas), assuming, despite there being no certainty for the moment, that an immunised person cannot transmit the virus.

Discouraging figures

The British and Spanish examples illustrate very well the difficulties of meeting the forecasts. Since December 8, when the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine began to be administered in the United Kingdom, until this Thursday, the NHS has managed to protect 3.06 million people with a first dose.

The forecast of Boris Johnson's government was that by February 15 the population most at risk should have been vaccinated: between 13.5 and 15 million people. Despite the fact that two vaccines are already available - on 5 January the Oxford vaccine was approved - at the current rate - just over half a million people per week - this figure will not be attained until July.

The urgency is great and the UK has already authorised, as of this Thursday, a pilot programme of vaccination in six pharmacies, which is possible only with the Oxford vaccine as it only needs a conventional refrigerator to preserve it. In the next few weeks there will be 200 that will do so. Attempts are also being made to establish high-capacity vaccination centres, which are to be open 24 hours a day. At the moment, however, it is all just plans.

Less than 600,000 people

What has happened since December 27th in Spain? In order to vaccinate, in the worst case, only 15 million people by the end of July, 30 million doses must be administered. This is because out of the 2.3 billion vaccines pre-purcahsed by the EU only the Janssen vaccine requires a single dose; all others are double dose. This means 850,000 administrations per week, assuming, moreover, that the last immunisations in July will continue until the third week of August to complete the cycle.

As of Wednesday, only 581,638  people had been vaccinated in the entire state. The daily average is 32,311. If the ratio is not much improved, by July 31 only 7.01 million people will have been vaccinated. Less than half of the minimum target set. Summer will not have been saved.

Being in the dark, however, means not being able to plan the campaign well enough, another of the great elements added to the difficulties of a logistical operation as unprecedented in terms of complexity as it is massive in terms of quantity. Administrations are in the dark, among other reasons, because there is no certainty about the exact number of vaccine deliveries. In Catalonia, for example, 700,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech will arrive until the end of March , which will allow the immunisation of 350,000 people.

On the other hand, the European Union, through the Commission, does not inform publicly either the number of deliveries for each member state or if there are variations in dates and quantities. Only in rather generally does it say: "In  the first months there will not be enough doses available to vaccinate all adults. The former will be targeted as priority groups identified by Member States. Supplies will increase over time and all adults should be able to be vaccinated during the course of 2021.

In spite of everything, the progress of the vaccination plan in Spain is far from being the worst in comparison with the rest of the European Union countries. Only Denmark (2.04) and Italy (1.47) have vaccinated more people per 100 inhabitants than Spain (1.24). However, the difference with Israel (23.56) is enormous, which has made an unparalleled effort, probably putting its military efficiency at the service of the battle against covid-19

When in November the promise was made to vaccinate  between 15 and 20 million people by summer, it was already known that this would not happen. When the Spanish government, with Pedro Sánchez at the helm, spoke last spring that it was committing itself "to a war against the covid-19", it was only rhetoric. Others, however, were perfectly aware of what they were talking about.

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