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Fridges trapped in Dover deemed main reason for slow vaccine rollout

Only 8,293 doses administered in Catalonia in first week although 60,000 are sent every week


04 January 2021 12:26 PM


ACN | Barcelona

The closure of the Eurotunnel in the English Channel due to the new Covid-19 strain just before Christmas is the main reason for the slow speed in which the vaccine rollout is unfolding in Catalonia, as a number of fridges needed to store doses were trapped in Dover.

This is what the Catalan health authorities said on Sunday, under pressure for having only administered barely 10% of the Pfizer doses they received one week ago.

Catalonia is expected to receive 60,000 doses every week, and the first shipment arrived last Monday – one full week later, only 8,293 people have been vaccinated. This represents barely 0.1% of the total population of Catalonia.

Authorities explained that the fridges recommended by Pfizer to transport the doses to the vaccination sites had to arrive from the UK but got stuck for several days and only arrived this weekend.

Pfizer delayed and EMA plan moved forward

Another reason given by the health department is the fact that the vaccination rollout was available one week earlier than originally planned because the European Medicines Agency moved the date forward – and therefore, they had one week less to plan the logistics of the scheme.

Pfizer was also delayed by one day in shipping the first 60,000 doses last week.

A senior official, Carmen Cabezas, said that they had been "too optimistic in the time intervals."

Health workers missing

Cabezas also added that health workers needed to administer the vaccines are still missing.

"The strategy is not to lose professionals in the primary care sections of hospitals, and that's why we have established extra shifts," she said.

This means that every week 500 workers, mainly nurses, have to do overtime in order to vaccinate people.

  • "We have been too optimistic in the time intervals"

    Carmen Cabezas · Health department senior officials

Yet, on Monday morning, the AIFiCC nurses association rejected a supposed lack of nurses as a reason for the delay.

"The problem is not a lack of staff, but organization and planning in the long term," its president, Alba Brugués, said on RAC1 radio.

She reminded listeners that 5,000 professionals responded to the call for 500 volunteer nurses to join the vaccine rollout, "so there are nurses."

"From our job's perspective, it is part of our normal duties, so this does not mean a very unusual deployment," she said, adding that they already take part in the flu vaccination rollout every year and that they are used to working unusual shifts and during holiday periods.

Authorizations slow down process

Cabezas also said that authorities are being delayed due to the time taken to receive the authorization of those who have to be given the jab.

In care homes, elderly people's families have to give the go-ahead, which slows down the process even further.

The health department's aim is to be able to administer the 60,000 vaccines from this week.

According to TV3 public broadcaster, public holidays will also be enabled for the vaccinations – on January 1, only 2 people were given a dose, and on Sunday, January 3, only 14.

'This is a marathon'

At a press conference on Monday afternoon announcing a new raft of measures to tackle the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, health minister Alba Vergés and head of public health, Josep Maria Argimon also addressed the delays in administering the vaccine.

Argimon said that the fridges arrived on Monday and Catalonia has 250 of them, enough for the first 12-week stage of the vaccine rollout.

"We are not looking at the view over four days, this is a marathon!" Argimon explained, adding that they have set a goal of vaccinating 748,000 people in 12 weeks.

Vergés said that the vaccination effort was being stepped up. "We will make another effort to promote vaccination, we will vaccinate every day."

The health minister also said that they would not wait for all staff and residents in care homes to be vaccinated before delivering the vaccine to other health professionals, but rather both groups would be vaccinated in parallel.


  • Some Covid-19 doses being prepared in Lleida, on December 30, 2020 (by Salvador Miret)

  • Some Covid-19 doses being prepared in Lleida, on December 30, 2020 (by Salvador Miret)