António Pedro Santos/ Lusa

Around 40,000 children who received first dose of Covid vaccine unable to receive second on time, due to becoming infected

The coming weekend is the next ‘big moment’ in Portugal’s programme for vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 against Covid-19, and by all accounts, very few will be turning up.

The lacklustre success of this programme is partly to do with the fact that of the 95,000 children vaccinated in the first cohort just before Christmas, 40,000 have already become ‘infected’ by the virus and so cannot receive their second jabs on time; and partly to do with parents’ distrust that their children even need the vaccine, bearing in mind that the likelihood of becoming ill as a result of infection is minimal.

Reticence has not been helped by the death of a six year old boy a few days after receiving his first dose of vaccine, in spite of assurances by all authorities that his death had nothing to do with it (click here).

Out of respect of the child’s grieving family, the cause of death has not been explained, nor is it ever likely to be. 

And today, in an appeal to parents to submit their children to the vaccine, DGS health director brought the tragedy up again, saying she would like to “leave a word of tranquility for parents, the cause of death had nothing to do with the vaccination”.

Ms Freitas’ concerns, she told Rádio Renascença, are that “we have only a few thousand children signed up for vaccination” over the weekend “and we want to appeal to parents and educators who have not yet vaccinated their children with the first dose – and who are not currently recovering from Covid, because those children cannot be vaccinated – to vaccinate them.

“We are still in an epidemic period”, Graça Freitas continued. “There are still many cases of disease among children, and comparing the severity of the disease with the very few side effects of the vaccine it is worth vaccinating”.

As to the latest Open Letter from doctors and pediatricians who are flatly against children being vaccinated with mRNA technology still under ‘emergency use authorisation’ (click here), Ms Freitas said: “When we recommend a vaccination, it means it has been through very important screening. What is more it has also passed the initial scrutiny of regulatory drug agencies – the FDA in the United States, and the one that refers to us, EMA (European Medicines Authority), which has Infarmed in our country. Also the large scientific societies of pediatricians, one European and one American, also recommend the vaccine”.

Unwittingly perhaps Ms Freitas’ comments drew attention to a very grey area. If children who have received their first jabs cannot receive their second “because they have become infected in the meantime”, this suggests some kind of risk associated with a dose of vaccine when the child’s body is fighting SARS-CoV-2 infection.

With the enormous transmissibility of Omicron still notching up tens of thousands of new infections per day – and the fact that 40,000 of the 95,000 have been infected post vaccination – parents may well be considering the likelihood of their children becoming infected following their first shots, and this risk (whatever it is) potentially coming into the mix.

Whatever the case, the next weekend is exclusively dedicated to the vaccination of children – second doses for the older age groups, and first for five year olds.

UPDATE: since appealing to parents to turn up over the weekend to vaccinate their children, Válter Fonseca, coordinator of the country’s Vaccine Technical Commission, has told TSF radio that children infected with SARS-CoV-2 post first vaccination must wait three months before receiving their second jab. Again, no questions have yet been raised on what the consequences might be of the opposite scenario: children vaccinated with 1st/ 2nd jab and then infected by SARS-CoV-2.