AstraZeneca vaccine arrives in Portugal on February 9, with doubts swirling over who should take it

Portugal will be receiving the first doses of the AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccine on February 9 as doubts are swirling in Europe over who should take it.

Germany and Italy are both described as “worried over the lack of data on the efficiency of the vaccine in people over the age of 65”; President Macron has come right out and suggested that it is “quasi-ineffective” for this age-group.

Against a background in which the EU has clashed fairly catastrophically with the UK over this vaccine, much of the concern could be construed as ‘sour grapes’. 

Reading between the lines, Francisco Ramos, Portugal’s vaccine task force coordinator, seems to be a man with a robust filter for this kind of ‘media noise’. Thus, he has simply delivered the ‘essential’ in terms of information, saying that Portugal should be receiving 113,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine on February 9 (‘all being well’), while 10,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine will be arriving today (Sunday), and another 80,000 of the Pfizer/BioNTech on Monday.

The Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) one-shot vaccine is also expected to start arriving in March, he said – saying this would reinforce the ‘rhythm of vaccination’ in Portugal during the second trimester.

Within a month of Portugal’s vaccination programme having begun, stories have started emerging of people receiving shots ‘ahead of their time’ (ie jumping the established protocol), due to their ‘connections’. 

Mr Ramos was quizzed by journalists on various incidents being highlighted by the press, agreeing that they were “lamentable”, but not his problem.

“I don’t seek to know of these situations”, were his words. “I don’t think that it is the competence or concern of the task force to seek out people who are cheating. Other entities can do that. What has been done this week was to request an investigation by the general inspectorate of health service activities in the sense of making sure rules and criteria are complied with”.

Portugal’s Phase One of its vaccination programme appears to be going ahead as planned (if not at lightening speed), with most seniors in old people’s homes having received one if not both their shots.

There are roughly 30,000 old people still to be vaccinated (due to the fact their homes have been involved in active outbreaks and vaccination had to be delayed), and there is still the issue of ‘illegal’ old people’s homes – which Mr Ramos said is being dealt with by ‘other entities’ (namely Social Security and Civil Protection) tasked with trying to pinpoint them.

The task force boss managed not to refer to any doubts about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine on over-65s. EMA, the European Medicines Agency, has approved its use on people over the age of 18, thus it is possible that Portugal will administer this vaccine to the less ‘at risk’ categories of the population.

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