MADRID, Feb 10 (Reuters) – Spain’s health ministry said on Wednesday that people under the age of 55 without major health complications who have previously contracted coronavirus will have to wait six months from their diagnosis before receiving a vaccine.
The provisional measure, which appears to be unique in Europe, will apply to the vaccines developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford University and AstraZeneca currently being distributed in Spain.
Justifying the decision to prioritise those without a history of COVID-19, the ministry said reinfection within six months was “exceptional”.
A major British study published last week found 99% of participants who previously tested positive retained antibodies for three months, while 88% still had them after six months.
“If vaccine is in short supply and they are confident that they can reliably and confidently identify previously infected people, there is some rationale to this,” said Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at Britain’s University of Edinburgh.
People older than 55 or those with health risks that make them vulnerable to reinfection would be exempted from the delay, the ministry said.
So far, healthcare professionals are the only people under 55 being inoculated, under Spain’s vaccine strategy.
With its third wave receding, Spain’s 14-day infection rate dropped to 493 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, down from around 900 just two weeks ago.
The death toll climbed by 643 to 63,704, while the health ministry reported 18,114 infections, bringing the overall tally to 3.02 million.
As authorities begin to inoculate a broader section of society with the recently approved AstraZeneca shot, Madrid’s regional government said it would convert stadiums and other big venues into vaccination centres.
Elsewhere in Europe, several Italian epidemiologists have said it is useless to vaccinate those who have already been infected, but Rome has not taken any decision on whether to administer jabs to recovering patients.
France’s public health agency believes there is no need to inoculate people who developed a symptomatic form of the disease, although those patients can still take a shot three months after the onset of symptoms. And authorities in the Netherlands still recommend getting a jab after contracting the disease, a minimum four weeks after getting symptoms.
(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Emma Pinedo and Nathan Allen in Madrid and Kate Kelland in London; Additional reporting by Emilio Parodi and Richard Lough; Editing by Alex Richardson and Steve Orlofsky)