The leader of one of Spain’s regional governments has come under heavy criticism after admitting that he had deliberately slowed the Covid-19 vaccine rollout owing to fears of adverse side-effects.
Guillermo Fernández Vara, president of Extremadura, said that he was wary of the “exceptionally short” trial period of the Pfizer vaccine that has been used in Spain since the end of December.
This led his regional health authority to proceed with “prudence and caution”.
“We felt it was good that during the first days we waited to see what the effects of the vaccine were, in terms of adverse effects or collateral effects,” Mr Fernández Vara, a trained doctor who specialised in forensic medicine, said at a press call on Wednesday.
“Once we have seen what we all hoped to see - that there has been no reaction - we have accelerated deployment”, the Socialist party politician said.
Political rivals were quick to question how the leader of a regional government in charge of healthcare could have harboured serious doubts over the safety of the vaccine his administration is in charge of administering to the population.
“Excuse me: I thought it was the European Medicines Agency that evaluated the vaccine,” said Ana Pastor, a former health minister from Spain’s conservative opposition Popular Party said on her Twitter account.
Others questioned the idea that the first people who received the vaccine in Extremadura, elderly care home residents, had apparently been viewed as guinea pigs by the region’s health authority.
Mr Fernández Vara also said that “now we are finishing the vaccinations in care homes and starting to vaccinate health workers in a big way, I stand by the prudence we showed in the first days”.
Responding to the criticism, he said in a post on Twitter that he “never had any doubt about vaccines”, adding that he had only been guilty of “excessive prudence”.
Extremadura currently has the worst level of Covid transmission in Spain by some distance, with a seven-day infection rate of 674 infections per 100,000 people. In terms of vaccination, it is among the slowest starters, having used 44 per cent of the more than 32,000 doses that it has been allocated so far.
Many Spaniards remain sceptical about the safety of Covid vaccines, although the number who say they would refuse to have a jab fell from more than 40 per cent to 28 per cent between September and December.
Spain’s health ministry said this week that it will launch a WhatsApp interactive channel to help fight against disinformation regarding Covid vaccines.