PHOTO: MÁRIO CRUZ/LUSA

Health minister pressed for reports underpinning decision to vaccinate Portugal’s younger children 

Health minister Marta Temido will be facing questions this afternoon from Opposition MPs on how and why authorities came to the decision to roll-out Covid vaccines to Portugal’s children from the ages of five to 11 (see updates below).

PSD and IL (Iniciativa Liberal) are keen to see all the reports and expert opinions that underpin the new policy; saying these need to be made available for all parents, in order for them to be able to make up their own minds.

DGS officials are scheduled to hold a press conference on this subject tomorrow. The understanding is that they will lay out the proposed timetable for vaccinations in the various age groups, starting with 11-year-olds, as well as ‘changes’ likely for vaccinated pupils in the case of future outbreaks.

It has long been suggested that vaccinated pupils will be assured continuity in education (in case of outbreaks), while unvaccinated pupils will be required to serve periods of isolation, irrespective of whether or not they test positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Is this justified? This is what PSD MPs and the smaller IL party want to understand.

Last night on RTPs Telejornal, Dr Cristina Camilo, president of the Society of Pediatric Intensive Care, explained that data since the very start of the pandemic shows that four children in total have been admitted to intensive care units as a result of Covid-19 – all of them suffering chronic diseases.

She said this brings the percentage likelihood for children to be admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 to 0.04%.

“The DGS is sovereign”, she conceded. “But in my opinion, with the numbers we have, there is no evident reason to vaccinate all healthy children from the ages of 5-11 for their personal protection”.

The likelihood of healthy children suffering adverse consequences from SARS-CoV-2 infection is “tiny”, she stressed.

And on the basis that current Covid vaccines do not stop adults becoming infected, she believes it will be the same for children, and therefore “makes no sense” to vaccinate them, particularly as what is happening in older age groups is the need to revaccinate with frequency.

There is however a case for vaccinations for children with comorbidities, Dr Camilo agreed.

The pediatrician’s statements have been uploaded onto Youtube (click here) and already watched by many thousands of people.

They are also being shared on various social media platforms. Comments have applauded Dr Camilo’s bravery in speaking out on a subject that has been systematically pushed by politicians/ the authorities for weeks as being a way of ‘protecting children’.

Ahead of tomorrow’s press conference, mainstream media has been running headlines along the lines of “there will be 40 more outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools by this time next week”.

This sounds a great deal more ‘terrifying’ than it may actually be. An outbreak, admits SIC, is “constituted by two or more confirmed cases with connected epidemiology in terms of time and space”.

In other words, two children from the same family going to the same school could be considered “an outbreak” when they may not have infected anyone else, and be asymptomatic themselves.

This is the grey area surrounding infections versus cases and one that MPs seem to be becoming more aware of.

Indeed, Jornal de Notícias adds to this controversy today by reporting that roughly half of the 638,000 children due to be vaccinated have already been infected by SARS-CoV- 2. On this basis, they should already have developed immune response in case of new infection (click  here).

For the time being, official DGS figures point to 614 active outbreaks in Portugal “the majority of them in schools”.

UPDATE 1: As this text was being uploaded, DGS health director Graça Freitas announced the reports and opinions requested will not be revealed as they are “internal documents” which are not generally released for public scrutiny.

It remains to be seen how well this response goes down both with PSD/ IL and the public/ media in general.

UPDATE 2: The Ordem dos Médicos (General Medical Council) has added its voice to the calls for reports and opinions backing the decision to be made public, saying the “confidence of populations in institutions is critical for the success of the fight against the pandemic, and for democracy”.

“Transparency in vaccinations of children is crucial in order for parents to make informed decisions”, said a statement sent by the council’s president Miguel Guimarães to Graça Freitas.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com