Madrid to be first region in Spain to vaccinate children under 12

Madrid’s president has announced her region will offer Covid-19 vaccines to 5 to 11 year olds in December despite the lack of official approval, as part of a number of Christmas Covid measures in the capital which also includes a free antigen test for everyone in Madrid.

Ayuso ran her presidential campaign using the slogan
Ayuso ran her presidential campaign using the slogan "Libertad" (Freedom) in reference to her relaxed approach to Covid restrictions during the pandemic. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso on Wednesday announced her government’s Covid plans for the Christmas period. 

Her government’s focus is reportedly on early detection, extra health staff, public awareness and vaccination, a plan which will “continue to combine the economy and public health”, Ayuso stated in reference to her relaxed approach to Covid measures throughout the pandemic. 

“Rather than going back to closures and lockdowns, what we’re going to do is avoid confusion and be proactive,” the 43 year old said. 

Vaccines for young children

As of December 15th, health workers in the region that houses the Spanish capital will reportedly start vaccinating children between the ages of 5 and 11. 

Ayuso’s announcement comes before official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccination Committee and the Public Health Commission that doses a third of the strength of adult ones should be used in young children. 

The European Medicines Agency recently approved the use of a lighter Pfizer vaccine for children in this age group, but Spanish health experts are still uncertain about whether this is necessary given the very high vaccination coverage in the adult population. 

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias did announce on Tuesday that the first batch of Covid vaccine for under 12s will arrive in the country in the second half of December, but Díaz Ayuso has decided once again to make her own plans rather than wait to hear from Spain’s left-wing government.

Spain’s regions can organise their vaccination strategies with a certain degree of freedom but the legality of vaccinating children without first getting approval from national health departments may be called into question.

Free antigen tests for all

The other standout feature of Ayuso’s Covid Christmas plans is the promise of a free antigen test for pretty much every madrileño, who number 6.6 million across the region, 3.2 million in the city.

These are for “whenever there are social gatherings, for it to be done safely,” the right-wing politician added. 

Madrid’s regional government has bought 4 million antigen tests which will be made available in 3,000 pharmacies from December 15th, so it won’t cover everyone in the region.

Residents will have to show their Madrid regional health card at the chemist whilst those with private health insurance can simply show their ID to get a free test.

Booster shots for people in their sixties

From Thursday December 2nd, people living in the capital aged 60 to 69 will be able to book an appointment to get their Covid-19 booster shot in Madrid. 

Spain’s Public Health Commission had initially proposed that 65 be the cut-off age for the booster dose in Spain but on November 17th Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed the age limit would be dropped to those aged 60 and over.

Rather than opting for a staggered approach in which people born each year are called up separately to get their booster dose, Madrid has opted to open vaccinations to the whole age group in a bid to get madrileños in their sixties that extra protection ahead of Christmas.

“The booster shot for the population aged 60 and over will be given six months after completing the initial full vaccination with mRNA vaccines (Pfizer or Moderna) and after three months in the case of those who have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or AstraZeneca doses”, Madrid’s regional government explains. 

More health workers

Ayuso has also promised “€40 million to employ all the health professionals necessary until at least the end of winter”. 

This staff “reinforcement” effectively involves handing out more temporary work contracts to health workers that aren’t working full time.

“We’re going to ask the recruitment companies for their collaboration to help us test their employees,” Ayuso explained.

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.