MADRID (Reuters) - Elderly residents and staff in nursing homes will be the first to get vaccinated against the coronavirus in Spain, starting as early as January, Health Minister Salvador Illa said on Tuesday, unveiling a national vaccination plan.
Other healthcare workers will be next in line, with a total of 18 groups of citizens being, one after the other, allowed to get the vaccine in one of 13,000 local public health centers.
Spain expects to cover a substantial part of the population within the first six months of 2021.
“The COVID-19 vaccine will be free,” Illa told a news conference, adding vaccination would not be compulsory. “We’re convinced that a vaccine is better accepted if it’s voluntary.”
The government hopes to get the first doses in January, he said, but availability will be limited for the first few months.
The government’s aim is for 2.5 million priority people - nursing home staff, the elderly and other vulnerable persons - to be vaccinated in a first phase. Illa said the government would spell out later who the other priority groups would be.
A dedicated registry will record who has been vaccinated, and make sure people get the second dose for vaccines that require it.
In Madrid, several elderly citizens welcomed the news and said they would get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“I’ll have it, of course I will have it,” said Roberto, a Chilean living in Madrid.
But in a country where many are unhappy with the authorities’ handling of the pandemic, not all were convinced.
“Madrid’s handling (of the pandemic) has been disastrous so it is not clear to me whether this process is going to go well and that it is going to reach the whole population as needed,” Angeles, a civil servant, said alongside her 87-year-old father.
A poll by the Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS) showed at least 47% of people would not be willing to be vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available.
Illa did not go into details about how the vaccine or vaccines, some of which need to be stored at very low temperatures, would be transported, but said it would not be a problem.
Government sources have said Spain will try to take advantage of all storage options available, without having to invest in new equipment if possible. That could include using trucks designed to transport animal drugs at low temperatures, the sources said.
Via the deals struck by the European Commission with the main providers of the potential COVID-19 vaccines, Spain hopes to get a total of 140 million vaccination doses, enough to vaccinate 80 million people in a country of 47 million. Some would be shared with poorer countries, Illa said.
“We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero said.
Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Jose Elias Rodriguez, Inti Landauro, Marco Trujillo, Silvio Castellanos; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Janet Lawrence
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