A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. | POOL


Spain expects to start vaccinating people against the coronavirus as early as January 4 or 5 if the European Medicines Agency gives the green light to a vaccine on December 29, health minister Salvador Illa said on Monday.

Spain plans to vaccinate elderly residents and staff in nursing homes first, then health workers and other vulnerable people.

Spain should achieve herd immunity from COVID-19 by the end of summer 2021 if enough people are vaccinated by then, the health minister said in an interview published on Sunday.

Salvador Illa said a vaccination programme will start in January and by the end of the summer more than two thirds of the population of 47 million should be vaccinated.

"In Europe, even if it is not the final end, we will be in a very different stage. That is why I think we are at the beginning of the end with this time horizon that I say, from five to six months," he told Publico newspaper.

Asked if this meant that Spain would achieve herd immunity, Illa replied: "Yes. It is what the technicians call that, that people have immunity either because they are vaccinated or because they have had the disease."

However, Illa cautioned Spaniards against dropping their guard during the Christmas period. Spain has been one of the worst hit countries in Europe by coronavirus.

New cases rose by 10,519 to 1,730,575 on Friday, according to health ministry data, while the number of deaths increased by 280, bringing the total to 47,624.