Covid-19: 5th doses scheduled for October 

“But no new restrictions, for now”, assures health minister

With the over-80s and all those in old people’s homes starting to receive 4th doses of Covid vaccines from tomorrow (Monday), DGS health chief Graça Freitas has announced that 5th doses will be next, “in four to five months time”.

National media has been abuzz with information charting the rapid increase in infections since mask-wearing in most indoor settings was ditched.

Rumour mills too have been grinding relentlessly, to the extent that many have been talking about ‘a return of mask-wearing indoors from midnight on Monday’.

This is not the case. Health minister Marta Temido has said, for the time being at least, there is no justification for tightening measures: this is a “complicated moment”, but if everyone plays their part (in terms of prevention, ‘being careful’), she believes the country will be able to get through it.

The week between May 3-9 saw almost 100,000 new cases. The Rt (transmission) number increased to 1.13 (meaning every one infected person passes the virus to just over one other. Under 1 is the ‘ideal’).

Admissions to hospital increased by 88 new patients; deaths (comorbidities unspecified) came in at 142, of which 110 were over the age of 80, 21 over the age of 70, nine over the age of 60 and two in younger age groups (one over 50/ one over 30: again no mention of any underlying conditions).

Patients in intensive care stayed static (in fact, losing one). Over the seven days in question, there were 59 people in the country’s intensive care units (including the autonomous regions of Madeira and Azores). 

And what has been becoming increasingly clear over the last few months is that vaccinations against Covid-19 do not stop people from getting infected, becoming ill, and in the case of the very old and immunocompromised, dying.

Thus DGS focus is on trying to protect these particular groups, with repeat doses of the same vaccinations.

The mantra now is that “a second booster shot “can present benefits in the prevention of serious illness, hospitalisation and death” (in other words, the advice that was given to justify 3rd shots/ 1st boosters has simply been copy/pasted to apply to 4th shots/ 2nd boosters).

This copy/ paste strategy will also be used to justify 5th doses/ 3rd boosters in October, Graça Freitas has announced – admitting that “ponderation” is also being given to rolling out 4th doses/ 2nd boosters for the over-60s, or possibly just the over-65s,“more close to winter”.

New Omicron strains dominant in Portugal which lead to reinfection

The latest strains of Omicron to cut a swathe through the population are doing so because they have found a way through immunity. Reports put this slightly differently, saying they “lead to reinfection”.

There are currently two new strains evident: BA.4 and BA.5 being the most dominant. But the information to appreciate is that “there is no evidence that either new strain provokes a more serious illness or increases mortality. They are simply more transmissible and lead to reinfection. Authorities thus estimate that there will be a significant increase in infections in Europe over the next few weeks”.

The ECDC (European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) is nonetheless said to be “especially preoccupied with countries with lower rates of vaccination”. This does not include Portugal where vaccination rates are among the highest in the world. According to the latest DGS bulletin, all age groups above 54 have been 100% vaccinated; dropping to 99% for 25-49 year olds, 98% for 18-24 year olds, 96% for 12-17 year olds and then down to 36% for 5-12 year olds. Overall, that means the country boasts a vaccination rate of 92% while the older age groups lead when it comes to booster shots – over-80s being 95% boosted;  65-79 year olds being 97% boosted, and 50-64 year olds 84%).

Virologist explains “reinfection is good”; “increase in infections has nothing to do with masks coming off”

Virologist Pedro Simas has been talking to SIC as elsewhere the media folderol has been on the perceived seriousness of rising numbers of infections.

He explained becoming ‘reinfected’ is “extremely important to update our immunity“.

“The problem with the pandemic”, he said (possibly meaning measures enforced during the pandemic) was that “we were never infected and so we had no immunity“. Vaccines corrected that situation, and now ‘naturally’ comes the phase for reinfection with emerging strains, he said.

As to the increase in infections recently, it has nothing to do with masks coming off in most indoor settings. Mask wearing at best requires “very strict rules on physical distancing” to be effective, said the viroloigist. The reason for the increase in infections is all down to much more transmissible strains of Omicron, he said – which are not causing worse illness or increased death.

PM Costa admits “not all decisions taken to face up to pandemic were coherent”

Talking in Braga, prime minister António Costa has admitted that not all decisions, nor measures, taken to face up to the pandemic were coherent. But they did seek to have a rationale “and this rationable, in essence, the population always understood”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com