Algarve: region of highest Covid incidence; with community transmission of Delta sub-variant

The Algarve has been identified as the Portuguese mainland region with the highest incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infections – and the one area where Delta sub-variant AY.4.2 is in community transmission.

Neither situation is being ‘played up’ for the time being: the central region for example has the highest number of patients in intensive care (ie the Algarve’s high incidence is not linked with large numbers of people arriving in local hospitals); and AY.4.2 is not showing signs of being more virulent than Delta – just more transmissible.

But the Algarve’s tally of 387 cases per 100,000 inhabitants is “way ahead” of that of other regions.

It is “the only” area in Portugal, for instance, “where authorities have found that the main outbreaks (around 62%) originate from parties and family gatherings”.

The most-affected age groups are those from 30-39 and 50-69.

Sub-variant AY.4.2 is growing in the UK as well as in Portugal. This is almost certainly why it is increasing most in the Algarve (traditionally favoured by British visitors).

Yesterday’s meeting with experts at Infarmed referred to the sub-variant, but mostly in passing. It “returned to being a subject of conversation behind closed doors”, explains Observador.

Referring to a report published in the UK, the online says that “people infected with this variant reported fewer symptoms, and when they did, they were not symptoms normally associated with Covid-19 (ie fever, persistent cough, lack of taste and smell)”. 

This could be down to two factors: the majority of people contracting AY.4.2 have been young (and therefore unaffected by the virus), or they have been fully-vaccinated.

But the bottom line continues to be “more infections will always end up with more people being ill”. Thus the fact that AY.4.2 is considered “a variant of interest”.

With all these details coming thick and fast since yesterday’s meeting, Expresso admits that “even without scientific consensus, the third dose could be for everyone”.

By February – coincidentally the month by which Austria has told its citizens Covid vaccines will become mandatory – everyone over the age of 18 will almost certainly be required to ‘reinforce’ their vaccines with another dose (of either Pfizer or Moderna’s mRNA shots).

Expresso says “most doctors” see the third dose as “inevitable”, albeit there is no foundation for this inevitability.

Biochemist Miguel Prudêncio confirms there is “no solid foundation for generalised administration”.

Yes, the booster shots are designed to replace a more elevated level of protection, making up for the “small loss observed”, he says. “But data tells us that this (loss) only happens in older age groups”.

Immunologist Marc Veldhoen, working out of IMM (Lisbon’s institute of molecular medicine), said much the same: “All those with a good immune system – the majority of people under the age of 65 – will have good cellular immunity and won’t need a 3rd dose”, he told the paper.

Luís Graça, a university lecturer in medicine and member of Portugal’s vaccine technical commission, admits “we are at a moment when there are beginning to be very different contexts in different countries and different vaccination strategies are being observed”.

He agreed that in his opinion booster shots are not required by citizens under the age of 65. 

But ultimate decisions will be political – and it is already clear where they are heading.

Meantime, today’s numbers have shown a 4th consecutive day with new infections well over the 2,000 mark, and more people admitted into Portuguese hospitals.

SIC television news has stressed that the majority of deaths have been in people whose vaccination status is ‘incomplete’. Whether this means elderly people who had not yet received their booster shots is not explained.

Another aspect not touched on by the nation’s media is the strange situation in Ireland, where Waterford City with 99.7% of its population fully-vaccinated suddenly went from having “one of the lowest rates of Covid-19 infection in Ireland, to one of the highest”.

This article, which appeared in the Irish Times last month, bears out research conducted in the United States, suggesting that making vaccination mandatory is not the answer (click here).  The way ahead, say researchers, is to rely more on “other pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com