Coronavirus live news: Spain could use military to boost vaccinations; Belgium to get half of Pfizer doses it ordered – The Guardian



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Stung by criticism that France has been dangerously slow to begin vaccinating the population, Olivier Véran, the health minister, said on Tuesday that France will catch up with neighbouring countries in “the next few days”.

Véran said sapeurs pompiers (firefighters and first responders) and home helps aged over 50 would now be getting the vaccine.

The programme started nine days ago with elderly residents of nursing and care homes, but has been slowed by the health authorities insistence that those being vaccinated must have a medical appointment, be given time to consider if they want it and give written consent.

Véran added that the elderly in the larger community – those over the age of 75 – will start getting the vaccine at the end of January when the country should have opened several hundred dedicated vaccination centres.

Véran promised to “widen, accelerate and simplify” the vaccine programme.

On Tuesday, prime minister Jean Castex, visiting the south of France, also criticised the attack on the government over the slow progress of vaccinations saying it was a “sterile argument … that never saved a single life”.

“The row helps nobody and brings no solution,” Castex said.

The website CovidTracker suggested 2,000 people had been vaccinated in France, but said the figure for Monday was an estimate and it was waiting for official figures from the Health Ministry. These were due to be published on Tuesday morning, but by Tuesday afternoon the site still had not been updated.

To reach the government’s stated target of inoculated 1 million people by the end of January, CovidTracker suggested 36,963 people would need to be vaccinated every day until the end of the month.

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Spain could use military to boost vaccination effort

Spain’s minister of defence has suggested the military could be used to bolster the country’s vaccination efforts, as frustrations mount over the plodding pace of the campaign.

Just shy of 83,000 doses of the vaccine have been given out since Spain kicked off its campaign 10 days ago.

“At this rate it could take us five years to vaccinate against Covid-19,” public health nurse Antonio Forcada told Spanish newspaper El Mundo. Spain is among the European countries hardest hit by the virus, with more than 50,000 deaths and close to 2m confirmed cases.

The vaccine rollout has varied wildly between regions; Madrid said on Saturday it had used 6% of the vaccination doses it had received while the northern region of Asturias said Monday that it had delivered 81%.

As reports linked the slow pace of the campaign to staffing issues, Spain’s defence minister said the military would be willing to help if needed. “They are fully available for whatever the health authorities ask of us,” Margarita Robles told reporters on Tuesday. “We have the logistics.”

Throughout the pandemic, Spain’s military has been brought in to help with tasks that range from disinfecting care homes to contact tracing.

In Madrid, where health care workers have long pleaded for an injection of resources in the overburdened public health care system, the conservative regional government hinted it would instead lean on the private sector for help with vaccination. “In a pandemic situation, one should use all resources as needed, whether public or private,” Madrid’s deputy health chief, Antonio Zapatero, told broadcaster RTVE.

Soon after it emerged that the Madrid regional government had signed a six-month, €800,000 contract with the Spanish Red Cross to provide 25 staff to help with vaccination – making Madrid the first region in Spain to subcontract vaccinations, according to news website ElDiario.es.

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