Success in 22 mice: the odyssey of the most advanced Spanish vaccine
The virologist Antonio Alcamí affirms that his patience has run out. He and his team are investigating the new coronavirus in a high-security laboratory and also go into the contaminated areas of some Madrid hospitals to study the virus in the air. However, they have not yet been vaccinated against covid. And it is not an exceptional case. The largest public science body in Spain, the CSIC, recognizes that some 200 of its employees work in laboratories exposed to the coronavirus without being vaccinated. Alcamí just received an appointment to inject the first dose on May 5. “We are a high-risk group that has been abandoned for three months, but they give us an appointment in six weeks. It is mind-boggling. They forget about the researchers ”, denounces Alcamí, from the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center (CSIC), in Madrid.
Among the scientists forgotten in the vaccination campaign are, paradoxically, the groups that are developing the Spanish experimental vaccines against covid . They have been handling the virus directly for months and without being vaccinated. Alcamí recalls that current regulations require that workers exposed to pathogens have access to the relevant vaccines. “To comply with the law, we should close all laboratories and reopen them when we are vaccinated. Now we are doing something illegal, "says the virologist.
A CSIC spokesperson explains that" scientific research staff still do not appear as a priority group "in the latest update of the Vaccination Strategy against covid in Spain, approved by the Ministry of Health and the autonomous communities. The CSIC asked the Community of Madrid on January 12 to prioritize the vaccination of 150 scientists who work in the capital exposed to the virus, according to the spokesperson. "Several requests have been necessary to achieve this prioritization," he says. The 150 researchers have been summoned between April 30 and May 5, so depending on the vaccine they receive, they may not be fully immunized until June.
"We are a high-risk group that has been abandoned for three months, but they give us an appointment in six weeks," denounces virologist Antonio Alcamí
The virologist Isabel Sola , co-director of one of the experimental vaccines against covid at the National Center for Biotechnology (CSIC), is one of those affected. “From the moment that vaccines were available, the law says that people who work with the virus must be vaccinated. We have not really known what the reasons for the delay have been, really ”, laments Sola, who was cited on April 30. Other groups less exposed to the coronavirus, such as cow veterinarians , were already vaccinated weeks ago in the Community of Madrid.
The public institutions involved offer contradictory versions about the lack of vaccination of scientists. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health affirms that her body does advise prioritizing the vaccination of professionals who work in "laboratories where samples that potentially contain viable viruses are handled." The spokeswoman defends that this is established in the vaccination strategy approved on February 26 , but the CSIC denies it.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health of the Community of Madrid offers a third version of the mess. According to this source, the CSIC professionals exposed to the virus were considered a priority, within the so-called Group 2, together with the "first-line personnel in the health and social health field" mentioned in the Vaccination Strategy . "They were offered to vaccinate them at the Vaccination Center on General Oraá street and, due to a problem unrelated to the Ministry of Health, they could not be vaccinated, since the list was incomplete," says the spokesman.
Biologist Juan García Arriaza, at the Animal Health Research Center (CISA), in Valdeolmos (Madrid) .CSIC
The biologist Juan García Arriaza , who leads the most advanced Spanish experimental vaccine together with Mariano Esteban, has publicly denounced the situation this Wednesday. “The scientists who are working day by day with SARS-CoV-2 should have been vaccinated for months, but the Community of Madrid does not consider it a priority. Regrettable! Terrible management! We need the process to be accelerated ”, has written in his social networks García Arriaza, from the National Center for Biotechnology, in Madrid.
The list of 150 researchers presented by the CSIC to the Community of Madrid includes workers from three Madrid centers: the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center, the Margarita Salas Biological Research Center and the National Biotechnology Center. The CSIC spokesperson explains that there are at least 50 other employees affected outside Madrid, in organizations such as the López-Neyra Institute of Parasitology and Biomedicine, in Granada; the Segura Center for Soil Science and Applied Biology, in Murcia; and three other centers in Valencia.
The biologist Iñaki Comas , from the Institute of Biomedicine of Valencia (CSIC), co-directs a Spanish consortium that monitors coronavirus mutations. Researchers at his center who are exposed to the virus have not yet received the vaccine. "There are groups whose investigation is essential and, even if they are not exposed, we should not risk that there is a positive and the entire group is quarantined," warns Comas. “If there is an outbreak in the laboratory we have to close for 15 days. And we cannot afford to stop the investigation for 15 days, ”agrees the virologist Antonio Alcamí, who also has publicly denounced the situation on his social networks.
"What surprises me the most is having zero information, as if we did not exist", laments the researcher Pilar Marco
Pilar Marco's group at the Institute of Advanced Chemistry of Catalonia (CSIC), in Barcelona, is one of the laboratories that carry out essential research and are also exposed to the virus. His team develops rapid diagnostic tests, essential for the management of the pandemic. "We in Catalonia have not been told anything yet," he laments. Some of its lines of research are "half-stopped", waiting for vaccination to be able to work with active viruses. “It surprises me a little that no one is thinking about scientists. And what surprises me the most is having zero information, as if we did not exist ”, says Marco.
The virologist Javier Ortego tests some Spanish experimental vaccines in mice at the Center for Research in Animal Health (CISA), the main laboratory of high biological security of Spain, located in Valdeolmos, 40 kilometers from Madrid. Ortega estimates that around 25 researchers who have not yet received the vaccine are exposed to the virus at CISA.
The team of virologist Margarita del Val , from the Severo Ochoa Molecular Biology Center, is another of those affected. "They have not vaccinated any of us," he confirms. The researcher, however, emphasizes that scientists who work in high-security laboratories must be prioritized and adds that the most “bleeding” thing is that there are still people over 80 years old in Spain who have not received the first dose. virologist Antonio Alcamí also points to the Ministry of Science, led by Pedro Duque. "The solution would have been for the minister to have struck the table and demanded vaccines for the people who are working on this," says the scientist. A Science spokesperson assures that they have tried to solve the mess. "We have asked the Ministry of Health to put on the priority list all researchers who are in contact with the coronavirus," says the spokesman. Alcamí urges the institutions involved to rectify and advance the vaccination of scientists “urgently”.
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