Supplies of coronavirus vaccines have become so scarce that the Madrid region of Spain will stop all new jabs for at least 10 days, a top official said on Wednesday, as Catalonia complained its supply was also running out.
Madrid’s move appears to be the first such pause in the EU, highlighting the bloc’s mounting problems with distributing the vaccine.
Ignacio Aguado, the deputy head of Madrid’s regional government, said shortages of both the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — the only ones so far approved by the EU — meant it was impossible at “the current pace” to meet national and European targets of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population by the end of June. Instead, “we would take until 2023 to arrive at this level”, he added.
Mr Aguado said that, due to the scarcity of the vaccines, the Madrid region would halt new vaccinations for at least the rest of this week and all of next, instead giving second doses to those who have already had jabs.
Spain and the EU have opted not to follow the UK in delaying second jabs, instead deciding to deliver booster vaccinations within the advised period of three weeks. “If we don’t do this, the virus itself could mutate, become resistant and prolong the fight against the pandemic,” Mr Aguado said. Madrid has already halted vaccinations of medical staff because of shortages, while maintaining them for the over 80s and people at risk.
Mr Aguado called on Carolina Darias, the country’s new health minister who took office on Wednesday, to make vaccine supply her overriding priority. “We need more doses and we need them now,” he said. “We have to move earth, sea and air to get them.”
Spain has once again become the EU country with the highest infection rate of coronavirus, reporting almost 900 cases per 100,000 of population in the past 14 days — more than three times the level of a month ago.
Catalonia added that its own supply of vaccinations could run out by Thursday. “Tomorrow the freezers will be empty,” said Josep Maria Argimon, a Catalan health official, as the region cited delays on the part of Moderna, smaller than expected shipments by Pfizer and confusion over a rival vaccine by AstraZeneca, which is in a contractual dispute with the EU.
Spain’s health policy is run by the country’s 17 regions although during the first wave of the epidemic, from March to June, the central government assumed direct control.
Until now, the central government has boasted that it has one of the best records in the EU in delivering the vaccine, achieving the second highest vaccination rate among member states after Denmark. It said it had received 1.35m doses and administered 1.3m, 96 per cent of the total.