Mixed messaging as Portugal’s rank-and-file politicians refuse early vaccine up-take

The overall message that Covid-19 is ‘running rampant’ with potentially more lethal variants embedded in the community appears not to have bothered Portugal’s backbench politicians.

Quite a number have openly rejected the chance of early vaccine uptake, saying: “Give my dose to an elderly person”.

Yesterday, Algarve MP Cristóvão Norte stressed that two-thirds of people who die from Covid in Portugal are ‘over the age of 80’ so he wouldn’t dream of taking shots that could be going to (save the life of) a vulnerable senior.

Newspapers too have reported over the last few days that ‘96% of Portugal’s fatalities are in the over-60s’.

It’s confusing therefore to see DGS health service publicity (featured image), depicting a clearly young man on a ventilator (looking very ill indeed) with the warning: “Two metres distance could have helped avoid all this…”

Of course, there are always exceptions – but reports on how politicians reacted to the offer of early vaccines have nonetheless been surprising.

Francisco Rodrigues dos Santos, the youthful leader of centre-right CDS, called it “an insult” for MPs to be given priority ahead of those who suffer most “as is the case of the elderly”.

“It is indefensible to place all these politicians ahead of older people, residents in old people’s homes, health professionals (both public and private) and other at risk groups that haven’t yet been vaccinated”, he railed.

Older but equally emphatic João Cotrim Figueiredo, the only MP for Iniciativa Liberal, has written to the Leader of the House to say he too “does not want to be included in any priority group” for access to vaccination against Covid-19.

And Cristóvão Norte tweeted that while he believes he “doesn’t carry out any functions that carry risks”, he agrees wholeheartedly that the President of the Republic, the prime minister and members of government (quite a few of whom have already been infected with the virus) should indeed be vaccinated early.

This gels with a popular post on social media insisting that members of the government get vaccinated early, saying: “If they get it and they’re fine, then it’s okay; if they get it and they’re not fine, then it’s still okay…”

Others joining the ranks of the ‘not-now-thank-you’s’ have been PSD MPs Ricardo Batista Leite and Alexandre Poço, PAN’s Bebiana Cunha (“We shouldn’t leap-frog over priorities in terms of public health”) and Chega’s André Ventura who believes “not one politician” should receive his or her inoculations before “all professionals on the frontline”.

What does seem certain is that members of government (bar those already in isolation with the virus) will be given early shots, in order for them to be able to stay at their posts. 

It’s unclear whether President Marcelo, aged 72, will take up the offer of an early vaccine. Up till now he hasn’t answered journalists questions on the subject  

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