This is how the latest vaccination targets have failed

With the arrival of the omicron variant and a dazzling increase in infections against COVID-19, the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, set five new objectives for the vaccination campaign at the end of last year. Of them, only one has been fulfilled, none of those planned for this year 2022 has been reached on the scheduled date and today they are far from being achieved.

The last to fail, and more emphatically, has been the one referring to the immunization of children aged 5 to 11 years. It was expected that this week the 70% of the population of this group with a complete regimen, and the latest Health data put it at 41%. The high number of infections in recent months, together with a mixture of fatigue and distrust of families, would be among the main reasons for this failure.

As 2022 progressed, there has been a progressive relaxation in the fulfillment of the proposed milestones, which is not unrelated to the general perception of the pandemic after two years living with it. On December 22, Pedro Sánchez ruled out special restrictions for Christmas and announced that they expected to reach the end of 2021 with 80% of those over 60 years of age vaccinated with the booster dose. It reached December 30 with 82%, and today 92.1% of those older than that age have three doses.

Instead, subsequent expectations have not been met. For the adults 50-59 years, it was expected that 80% would be vaccinated in the last week of January, but they were ten points below. Not even today, almost three months later, has that percentage been reached (76.6%). And the same thing happens with adults 40 to 49 years, 80% of whom should be vaccinated with the booster dose in the first week of March and only 60% are. In most age segments, the administration of the third dose has become an almost flat line, as seen in the graph below.

As for the children from 5 to 11 years, who began to be vaccinated on December 15, it was expected that 70% would have the first dose in the week of February 7, and that in this week ending 70% would already have both doses. The truth is only 54% have received the first dose and only 41% have the complete regimen. It is by far the group furthest from the objectives proposed by the Government.

No autonomous community has reached the desired 70% of children with a complete guideline, according to the latest data released by Health. Only Galicia and Extremadura are around 60%, and they are the only ones that have so far given at least one dose to 70% of children between 5 and 11 years of age. Asturias, Castilla y León and La Rioja are close to that bar.

Tiredness of society and absence of explanations

For pediatrician Ángel Hernández Merino, member of the Vaccine Advisory Committee of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (CAV-AEP), the fact that this objective has not been reached has to do with a sum of factors. Among them, the high number of infections of the omicron variant, which has postponed vaccination of many minors and also of adults and, no less important, the lack of sufficient explanations on the part of the public authorities when the motivation of the families and the credibility of the vaccines began to waver.

Hernández Merino points out in declarations to DatosRTVE that when in the second half of January the incidence in the unvaccinated population skyrocketed, especially in children, “the impression grew that the vaccine did not protect against omicron. And this was not explained well by health authorities or professionals, because vaccines protect against death and serious illness in a very important way, even if they do not protect against infection”.

Another reason is the “tired of the population”, which is manifested in “the reduction of the perception of risk, which leads both to take fewer precautions and to give less importance to the recommendations”. In this week in which the use of a mask indoors has ceased to be mandatory, this pediatrician misses “explanations” so as not to lower his guard about a pandemic whose main variant is evolving, but towards which “interest is falling from accelerated way.” “Most of the population believes that this is over and it is by no means over.”it states.

Omicron delays and protocol confusion

Spain was exemplary in meeting the main vaccination targets set by the Government and reached the end of the summer of 2021 with 70% of the Spanish population with the full schedule of the vaccine. A milestone achieved in eight months that brought a sense of triumph and pride in reaching a goal, which, however, was only a stage along the way.

Shortly after, a new round of booster doses began for the vulnerable population that was extended to everyone over 18 years of age. But neither the requirement of the vaccination certificate to travel or access certain public spaces nor the emergence of the omicron variant sufficiently boosted the pending injections.

In fact, the multiplication of infections by this variant since December has postponed the administration of the third dose in many adults or the corresponding puncture in children. For these, the Public Health Commission determined that children who were infected before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine would receive a single dose from eight weeks after the diagnosis of the infection. And if this occurred after the first dose, the second would be administered when the minor had fully recovered and at least eight weeks had passed since the diagnosis. Adults under the age of 65 on a full course who contracted COVID also had to wait at least four weeks from infection — and preferably five months — before getting a booster dose.

In this sense, in the opinion of the pediatrician Ángel Hernández, it also affected the development of vaccination “the variability of the protocols” in some communities that “strayed from the consensus and the recommendations of the Interterritorial Council for no apparent reason” or the different resources deployed, less effective precisely in some of the most populated communities, such as Catalonia and Madrid.

Be that as it may, the explosion of infections would have postponed the additional dose for a large number of people and would partly explain the delay in immunization goals. In three months, between December 29 and March 30, 360,000 infections were reported in children between five and nine years old, 675,000 in the group between 50 and 59 years old and more than one million in the group between 40 and 49 years old, according to reports from the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII), before the change in protocol with which they have stopped monitoring infections in the general population.

The following graph shows how, after the temporary incentive provided by the introduction of the COVID passport, the rate of vaccination has decreased since December to almost 70,000 weekly injections.

A threat for future childhood vaccinations

The delay in pediatric vaccination has also been influenced by the doubts of many families regarding the decision to vaccinate their young children, despite health recommendations and messages about the safety of the coronavirus vaccine.

Lessons should be drawn from this, warns the adviser to the Spanish Association of Pediatrics. In a country like Spain, in which there has always been a great support for childhood vaccination campaigns and very high coverage, “We had not seen a failure in the vaccine policy of this caliber”. In his opinion, the causes of what happened should be analyzed and communicated to prevent “complacency from playing tricks on us” in the future.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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