SPANISH health authorities are set to receive 23,309 doses of a meningitis vaccination originally destined for Portugal since supplies in pharmacies have run out.
Panic-buying by concerned parents means stocks of the Meningococo B inoculation ran out in November and have not yet been replaced.
New boxes of the medication Bexsero, manufactured by GSK-GlaxoSmithkline, have been filtering into Spain after Portugal agreed to let them be redirected in light of the lack of stocks in the neighbouring country.
Each regional health authority will be required to sign a contract to say they agree to use the diverted supplies, and that they will arrange for the Portuguese prospectus in each to be translated into Spanish.
Vaccinations were not due to be delivered to Spain until June this year, but a run on them meant they were sold out within a month of hitting the market and the waiting list is growing.
The Spanish Agency for Medicine and Healthcare Products (AEMPS), part of the ministry of health, social services and equality, authorised the retailing of the vaccination for the first time ever on October 1.
Until then, it was only available in hospitals, and only high-risk cases were given them, such as children and their family members in schools where a pupil had been diagnosed.
But as soon as they became available over the counter, parents all over Spain rushed out to buy them and vaccinate their children just in case.
The price of each inoculation comes to around €115, and has to be injected in three doses, plus a booster, depending upon the patient's age – and the first injection cannot be given unless and until the patient, or his or her parents, have all the necessary doses to hand.
Bexsero is not part of the obligatory programme of vaccinations parents have to arrange for their children, and is unlikely to be in the foreseeable future, but the Spanish Paediatric Association recommends all youngsters have it – even though it comes at a cost.
In Madrid alone, each of the 2,800-plus pharmacies have waiting lists exceeding 30 people.
Each time a new batch arrives, say chemists, they sell out within minutes.
Despite the shortage, the ministry of health has guaranteed that all hospitals will be able to supply the vaccination to high-risk cases.
As well as children at schools where a pupil has been diagnosed, these include patients without a spleen or with a spleen disfunction, anyone with an immune system disorder, and laboratory personnel, among others.
According to Madrid's Official College of Pharmacists, the vaccines take around nine months to manufacture.
“It's not a case of staff working extra shifts to be able to produce more – it's about waiting for the bacteria to cultivate, which takes time, and increasing hours or staff numbers will not lead to the doses being made up any quicker,” a spokesperson from the college explains.
Children who have been given the first dose before chemists ran out of stock are now facing a race against time – the second dose has to be given within a matter of weeks, since the first only provides immunisation for two to three months.
This means from February onwards, all children who have not been able to get a second dose will no longer be protected from meningitis.
But GSK-GlaxoSmithkline says it has placed priority on supplying retail pharmacies first.