Portugal to receive 600,000 ‘new Covid vaccines’ next week

COVID wave looms in Europe as booster campaign makes slow start

WHO experts warn of people’s “false sense of security”

With Portugal’s last ‘Covid bulletin’ registering a marked fall in the number of infections, the situation doesn’t appear quite so calm in the rest of Europe.

World Health Organisation (WHO) officials have started sounding the alert, stressing a new wave of Covid-19 appears to be brewing, while vaccine fatigue and ‘confusion over types of available vaccines will likely limit uptake’.

Stories circulating explain that Omicron subvariants BA 4/ 5 are still behind the majority of infections, “but newer Omicron subvariants are gaining ground”.

Says Reuters, WHO officials describe “hundreds of new forms of Omicron” which are being “tracked by scientists”.

It is a complicated situation. Testing has all but dwindled to nothing. Globally ‘case numbers continue to fall’, but in Europe, where cold weather is setting in in the north, “cases reached 1.5 million last week, up by 8%”, says Reuters.

Cases do not translate necessarily into increased pressure on hospitals, but in this case, “hospitalisation numbers across many countries in the 27-nation bloc,as well as Britain have gone up in recent weeks”, says the news agency.

The underlying message is that new vaccines “made available alongside existing first-generation vaccines” are available, but due to the variety of vaccines now on the market, there is not only ‘confusion’ among people, but a certain “wearing thin” of willingness to get another shot “which could be a fourth or fifth for some”.

Says Reuters, quoting WHO expert advisor Adam Finn of ETAGE:  “Perhaps the biggest challenge to uptake is the perception that the pandemic is over, creating a false sense of security”.

With this new ‘media splash’ being widely published, the WHO has also issued ‘a joint statement’ concerning the winter double-vaccination campaign (offering immunisations against flu and Covid-19).

Issued in the names of Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Ms Stella Kyriakides, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge and Dr Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, it reads:

Although we are not where we were 1 year ago, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over. We are unfortunately seeing indicators rising again in Europe, suggesting that another wave of infections has begun. With the arrival of autumn and winter, the resurgence of influenza can also be expected. 

“In light of this, we reconfirm the need to protect people’s health, especially the most vulnerable, using all the available tools, including vaccination. Preparedness measures need to continue in the WHO European Region – we should not let our guard down. 

“The potential co-circulation of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza will put vulnerable people at increased risk of severe illness and death, with the likelihood of increased pressure on both hospitals and health-care workers, already exhausted from almost 3 years on the front lines of the pandemic. 

“We need to avoid the burden of this co-circulation on our health-care systems. Together with public health measures, vaccination remains one of our most effective tools against both viruses. We urge countries in the European Region to prioritize protecting the most vulnerable groups by co-administering influenza and COVID-19 vaccines whenever feasible. 

“Millions of people across the Region have still not been vaccinated against COVID-19. European countries should make every effort to reach the unvaccinated, making sure that they get their COVID-19 vaccine doses while also rolling out booster doses to priority groups, in line with national recommendations. 

“Many of those most at risk of severe COVID-19 are also at high risk of experiencing a serious influenza infection. It is important that the following priority groups get vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19: health-care workers, people over 60 years old, pregnant women, and those with comorbidities and/or underlying conditions.

“The Southern Hemisphere, where winter recently ended, experienced an early and highly active influenza season. While we do not know exactly what to expect in the European Region, we may see a similar scenario in the Northern Hemisphere during autumn and leading into winter. This means we need to be ready and act now. 

“Our message is simple: vaccination saves lives. It decreases the chances of being infected and reduces the risk of severe consequences from COVID-19 and seasonal influenza. There is no time to lose. We encourage everyone eligible, especially the most vulnerable, to come forward as soon as possible for both COVID-19 and influenza vaccination”.

The last mention of Covid-19 in Portugal’s mainstream came last Saturday, when the DGS health authority published data for September 27 to October 3. This showed that the country registered 14,852 new cases, which represented 4,729 fewer infections compared with the previous seven day period. There were 45 deaths “associated with Covid-19”, and a slight reduction in hospitalisations, said the bulletin.

In light of the WHO media campaign, it seems highly likely now that the message in Portugal will ramp up, with encouragement emphasised for people who qualify to line-up for their booster shots – and possibly even efforts to persuade those who have not so far come forwards for inoculation to do so.

According to the Our World in Data website, Portugal remains the European country with the highest percentage of its population vaccinated against Covid-19, with 94.83% of citizens fully vaccinated.

SIC televison news today adds that people are coming forwards for their booster shots/ flu shots “at a good rhythm”.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com