Disquiet as teachers go to front of Portugal’s vaccinations queue with 500,000 ‘at greatest risk’ still waiting for jabs

Teachers may have won their battle with the government for the right to be included in the list of vaccination priorities – but at some cost.

Experts who recommended against the decision explain: it compromises the truly vulnerable – the remaining 500,000 people for whom the First Phase of Portugal’s vaccine roll-out was intended, and who haven’t yet received their jabs.

Said epidemiologist Manuel Carmo Gomes: “This decision was not recommended by the commission for vaccinations against Covid” (of which he is a member). 

“There is no evidence that teachers present a greater risk than other professional groups that have also asked for their situations to be considered”, Gomes told Expresso. 

“There is also no evidence that teachers run a greater risk of developing serious illness and death (from Covid-19) than the pathologies considered for the Second Phase”.

If vaccine supplies “increase considerably”, the decision won’t impact too heavily on the truly vulnerable, he said. 

But if they don’t, the chances are that it could.

It’s essentially a political decision that has taken the word ‘priority’ on a level unrecognised by the experts.

For the medical profession, ‘priority’ means people who have a very high chance of dying from Covid infection. 

For the government, says Expresso, the decision was intended more to give a ‘sign of security to the (education) sector’ – a sector that has been vociferously demanding preferential treatment on the basis that many of its members are on the wrong side of 50.

According to the Ministry of Health, the vaccination process in schools will start with 46,000 kindergarten staff and primary school teachers and non-teaching personnel “between the end of March and the beginning of April”.

This means that vaccines that would have been going on the remaining 80-year-olds and 50-79-year-olds with certain pathologies -not to mention roughly 20,000 police still waiting for their priority jabs – will now have to be spread more thinly.

The decision to start vaccinating teachers coincided with the European Medicines Agency announcing that it has approved the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine for roll-out – Portugal is due to receive 1.25 million doses of this vaccine between April and end-June, and 4.5 million doses in total this year.

Almost immediately however an article in the Financial Times referred to ‘difficulties’ in Johnson&Johnson’s supply chain, with the company ‘not sure it will be able to comply with deliveries agreed with the European Union’.

Expresso claims task force coordinator Henrique Gouveia e Melo is still ‘optimistic about the future’.

“By the end of March we should have 2.4 or 2.5 million vaccines, and in the second trimester (April to June) we should have 9 million”, he said.

But it is still difficult to calculate the ‘rhythm of supply’ for this first trimester.

Gouveia e Melo referred to another half million doses arriving at the end of March. 91,000 of these will be part of  the additional 4 million doses of Pfizer vaccine that the European Commission has managed to secure to the end March – the bulk of the rest will be in the form of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Vaccines administered so far

According to data, up till March 7, Portugal

  • had received 1,186,389 vaccines, having inoculated 1,078,763 people (working out at 10.6 people per 100 inhabitants)
  • was vaccinating an average of 22,712 people per day
  • had administered 772,343 first shots (working out at 7.6 doses per 100 inhabitants) and completed 306,420 cases (ie this number of people is now fully protected)
  • was 26th in the list of countries that have administered most shots per 100 inhabitants.

The totals are moving all the time and can be consulted on Our World in Data site (click here)

Portugal’s vaccination task force “maintains the idea that it is possible to comply with the objective, suggested by the European Commission and accepted by the government, to have 80% of the over-80s fully vaccinated by the end of March”, concludes Expresso. 

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