Spain rallies behind EU vaccine strategy

"Spain fully trusts that the European Commission will know how to defend the interests of all member states, in terms of both vaccine acquisition and handling of contracts with pharmaceutical (companies)," said Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya. [EPA-EFE/Mariscal]

Spain made clear on Thursday (28 January) it supported the European Union’s handling of a shortfall in COVID-19 vaccines after a leaked document suggested the health ministry was blaming Brussels.

In a draft agenda for a summit of regional health chiefs after cases ballooned due to holiday gatherings, the central government was critical of the EU, El Mundo reported earlier in the day, quoting the leaked document.

“It is the European Union that negotiates and signs the contracts, that is in charge of tracking them and making sure they are correctly fulfilled,” it quoted the government as saying in the document.

However, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya later told reporters: “Spain fully trusts that the European Commission will know how to defend the interests of all member states, in terms of both vaccine acquisition and handling of contracts with pharmaceutical (companies).”

The EU, whose member states are far behind Israel, Britain and the United States in rolling out vaccines, is scrambling to get supplies just as the West’s biggest drugmakers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems.

EU requests inspection of Belgian vaccine plant

The European Commission has requested an inspection of a Belgian plant producing the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, a Belgian official said Thursday (28 January).

Spain recorded 34,899 new coronavirus infections and 515 deaths from COVID-19 in the past day, health ministry data showed on Thursday, with the 14-day incidence dropping slightly for the first time in three weeks.

But faced with dwindling stocks, authorities in Madrid and the northern region of Cantabria have stopped vaccinating new people to focus on administering second shots to those who have already received a first dose.

The supply crunch is being felt in many parts of Spain. At Sant Pau hospital in Barcelona, on the Mediterranean coast, retired nurses have been volunteering to help vaccinate health workers but are now focusing solely on second doses.

“We’ve had to bring down the speed of vaccinating…(people),” Sant Pau’s head of occupational health, Dr Rafael Padros Selma, said.

He hoped a new shipment due on Feb. 15 would allow the vaccination programme to regain momentum.

Data released on Wednesday showed Spain had administered some 1.4 million doses, about 78% of its current stocks.

After diagnosing around 775,000 cases during a record surge in the past month, Spain’s cumulative infections now total more than 2.7 million and the death toll has passed 57,800.

World Heath Organisation senior emergency officer Catherine Smallwood said new cases had begun to level off in Spain.

“We hope that that will translate into a gradual decline in coming weeks,” she told a news conference.

EU-AstraZeneca row heats up as Commission asks to publish contract

The European Commission has once again rejected AstraZeneca’s claim that it has not breached any contractual obligation to the EU by delaying the shipment of vaccines, and instead suggested to make public the contract with the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company.

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