Madrid may shut down mass vaccination centres unless more shots arrive

·2-min read
COVID-19 vaccinations in Madrid

MADRID (Reuters) - A shortage of coronavirus shots may force the Madrid region to close down mass vaccination centres next week, the regional public health chief said on Friday, even as infections in the Spanish capital outpace the national average.

Madrid, whose administration has long been at loggerheads with the central government on the pandemic response, administers around 275,000 shots per week, but is due to receive just 157,900 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine next week, Antonio Zapatero told reporters.

"If this situation continues we'll have to close the mass vaccination centres," he said. "Without vaccines, there is no point in having such a big operation."

A Health Ministry spokeswoman said batches of AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines due next week should avoid any such situation.

Health officials in the northeastern region of Catalonia, which is yet to start mass vaccinations at large venues, said the pace of its inoculation campaign depended on deliveries and called for a larger number of Astrazeneca shots.

Like other European cities, Madrid has converted big venues such as Atletico Madrid's Wanda football stadium into injection centres to try to speed up the sluggish vaccination campaign.

But senior Madrid health official Elena Andradas complained the region had been receiving less than its fair share of doses, hampering efforts to inoculate vulnerable age groups. The region has around 130,000 doses in stock, she added.

Spain has registered nearly 3.4 million cases and 76,981 deaths from COVID-19, according to health ministry data on Friday.

Despite delays to the deployment of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine over blood-clot concerns, Spain still expects to have half its 47-million population fully inoculated by late July.

Europe's drug regulator said on Wednesday it planned to issue a recommendation on the vaccine next week, but that it continued to believe the benefits of the shot outweighed the risks of side effects.

Led by maverick conservative Isabel Diaz Ayuso, who is running for re-election, Madrid has consistently opted for looser restrictions than the rest of Spain.

Public health experts have cited Ayuso's insistence on keeping bars and restaurants open as a factor in the capital's high 14-day infection rate, which on Friday reached 372 cases per 100,000 people against the national average of 213.05.

(Reporting by Nathan Allen, Graham Keeley and Joan Faus; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan and Alison Williams)