Henrique Gouveia e Melo told reporters the applause he received on Saturday made up for seven months of exhaustion

120,000 teens line-up to receive Covid vaccines on Portugal’s first weekend of mass youth inoculations

Portugal’s first weekend of inoculating the youngest members of society so far deemed eligible for Covid vaccines saw 120.000 12-15 year olds line up to receive their shots.

Vaccine task force coordinator Henrique Gouveia e Melo admitted to becoming quite ‘emotional’ over the response by parents and children.

Last weekend he endured insults and heckling outside a vaccination centre in Odivelas (click here). This one has been totally different: visiting various centres around the capital yesterday, he was actually met in Alcabideche with applause.

Tabloid reports on the fact that Portugal reached its target of fully inoculating 70% of the population ‘ahead of time’ insist that none of this would have been possible without the kind of leadership that the naval vice-admiral has brought to the process.

He has ‘personalised combat’, says Correio da Manhã. 

By wearing his camouflage fatigues and talking about ‘cornering the virus and giving it no chance to manoeuvre’, he has helped create a feeling of unity against Covid-19 that the paper claims “would not have been possible” with anyone else.

Certainly, the highly-decorated military man is now a national figure. But how much his enormous efforts are going to change the course of the pandemic is still unknown.

While other countries with high rates of vaccination are showing spikes in the number of new infections and hospitalisations, Portugal so far is doing well.

Hospitalisations generally are falling (as of yesterday, there were 681 in hospitals, of which 145 were in intensive care. The week before these numbers were 727 and 161 respectively). But compared to August of 2020 (ie before vaccinations were being administered) numbers for both are much higher.

And this is the ‘elephant in the room’ right now.

While so many media reports concentrate on the message that in vaccinating children and teens, ‘disease will be prevented among pupils, teachers, janitors and non-teaching staff’, none of this can actually be proved yet.

Data coming out of Israel – a country that has heavily vaccinated its population and has been ‘ahead of Europe’ in this respect since January – is showing that on August 16 this year, for example, there were 5,950 new infections  whereas on the same day the year before there were ‘only’ 1,429.

Hospitalisations too, compared to those last year, were slightly higher (916 last August 16 compared to 953 this), while the seven-day average for deaths was also slightly higher (14 per day last year, compared to 18 this).

It is the Delta variant that has ‘messed everything up’, in terms of vaccination effectiveness, which is why Israel has already opted to start rolling out 3rd booster shots.

While Portugal continues to say it is ‘waiting for a European decision’ on whether or not it will start administering 3rd doses of the Covid vaccines, Madeira has said there is a “very strong possibility” that it will begin rolling them out – to the most vulnerable at least – from as early as next month, and Azores has taken the bull by the horns and said it will definitely be giving out boosters from October.

Thus, with the various studies now showing how much immunity against the Delta variant ‘falls’ over time (click here and here), the next questions will have to be how to ‘manage’ vaccine mandates.

For the time being, entry into public places (like restaurant interiors at weekends and Bank Holidays, or weddings, concerts, baptisms etc.) are on the basis that people have received two inoculations, with a period of at least 14 days since the last. Will this have to change in the coming months as third doses are adopted by increasingly more countries?

The short answer, of course, is that no-one knows.