DGS health boss predicts “lifting of restrictions” from September – thanks to vaccination of Portugal’s children

DGS health authority director-general Graça Freitas has given an apparently upbeat message about Portugal being most likely to see “a lifting of restrictions from September’.

But the reason – on the weekend when 70% of the country has received at least one dose of the various Covid vaccines – is that by September Portugal will have started vaccinating children.

In interview with Jornal de Notícias and TSF Radio, Ms Freitas said she was basing her forecast on “the assumption” that Portugal will soon have authorisation to vaccinate 12-15 year olds”.

The technical opinion being sought from the Vaccine Commission has been concluded, she said – and she knows its contents, although it hasn’t yet been published.

Notwithstanding the warning last week from intensive care pediatric specialist Francisco Abecasis – who stressed there needs to be a lot  more data before the sense in vaccinating children can be fully gauged – Ms Freitas said: “Everyone will realise, young or not young, that sooner or later we all have to be vaccinated. The great difference is that some will be vaccinated with a wild virus, and pay the price for this immunity which is being ill – and others will have the opportunity of becoming immunised through a vaccine that is safe, efficacious and has quality”.

Her comments have been repeated by JN and TSF – neither news source quizzing the health chief on the fact that the majority of young people infected with Covid-19 show no symptoms at all.

In other words, their ‘vaccination with a wild virus’ has not come with a price (beyond the temporary deprivation of their personal freedoms), while tests in countries like the United States and Israel have shown that a small proportion of young people – particularly young men – vaccinated with mRNA Covid vaccines have gone on to develop inflammation of the heart (click here and here).

Europe’s ECDC (which approved the roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine for 12 -15 year olds back in May) accepts there is a “possible link  between very rare heart inflammation and COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech (PFE.N), (22UAy.DE) and Moderna (MRNA.O) but it has stopped short of suggesting this should be any kind of cause for concern. 

Indeed the ECDC message remains: “the benefits of the shots outweigh the risks”.

The issue nonetheless is that 12-15 year olds are still very much the responsibilities of parents who may be more inclined to consider the advice of a pediatrician with a speciality in serious health issues affecting children, than to follow recommendations from a regulatory body openly stating that one of its principal aims is to “improve vaccine coverage in the EU”.

Ms Freitas’ interview played out against a backdrop of criticism of the government’s latest ‘containment’ measures (click here).

The interview seemed geared towards giving the unpopular measures scientific validity. 

Ms Freitas dubbed the new rules for entry to restaurant interiors at weekends “strategies of adaptation” for which alternatives “would be even worse”.

“The worst of all alternatives would be restaurants having to shut”, she said. 

But perhaps the real punchline came right at the end. Following Ms Freitas’ affirmations that the Covid vaccines are “safe, efficacious and with quality” – she admitted that no-one yet can be absolutely sure.

“Right now we are still not so sure about this (the vaccines’) protection. That is, we know that two doses plus 14 days in most people work, and that people are protected. But there is still a percentage that is not immune”, she explained.

Thus the ‘precautionary principle’ of sending fully-vaccinated people into isolation when they have cross-paths with infection “will be revised when the margin of uncertainty about the disease’s behaviour ends”. (This may have been a reference to the end date for assessing Pfizer and Moderna’s study data, due late 2022 and early 2023).

The comments indirectly explain Dr Abecasis’ call for ‘prudence’ over a policy to vaccinate Portugal’s children in order to increase herd immunity (click here).

These are new vaccines”, he told a SIC television news programme last week. “We really need to have more data before we can advise a universal vaccine in pediatric age groups” – and that is before one tackles the ‘ethical question’: Is it even legal to vaccinate a child to protect adults?

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com