DGS health chief Graça Freitas - Photo: TIAGO PETINGA/LUSA

Over-65s to receive flu vaccines and Covid booster jabs simultaneously

From Monday October 18 Portugal’s oldest citizens will start receiving vaccines against the flu and booster jabs against Covid-19 simultaneously.

DGS health chief Graça Freitas announced the decision yesterday – in spite of the fact that earlier in the week the vaccine technical commission had intimated that ‘the ideal’ would be to administer the jabs separately.

One of the arguments in favour of separate administration lay in the monitoring of possible ‘adverse reactions’: if both vaccines are given on the same day, it will be impossible to understand which vaccine may have been responsible for whatever reaction.

Nonetheless, from the point of view of logistics, same-day administration “in different arms” has ‘won the day’.

Ms Freitas has stressed however that anyone who would rather receive the jabs on different days (ie not at once) will be entitled to do so.

Meantime, the increase in the number of deaths from Covid-19 in fully-vaccinated seniors continues – and seems set to persist irrespective of booster shots.

Epidemiologist Manuel Carmo Gomes has admitted to Rádio Renascença that the death toll among the over-80s has been increasing since June (click here). While fully-vaccinated octogenarians made up 58% of deaths from Covid-19 in September, this month has seen that level rise to 70%.

The dilemma comes on the wings of the Delta variant, he explains. 

In the early days of the Alpha (British/ Kent variant) the current vaccines conferred ‘good protection’ against serious illness and/ or hospitalisation and death from Covid-19 for some months. But since the Delta (Indian variant) arrived, everything has changed when it comes to the oldest age-groups. 

Right now, the over-80s represent “approximately 50% of people interned in hospitals”, while 40% of all those in intensive care units are over the age of 70 “with this tendency increasing”, he said.

The vast majority (if not all) of these patients will have been fully-vaccinated. 

And as the specialist explained, even if the entire population was fully-vaccinated (which it isn’t) there would still remain the possibility of ‘approximately 40% to 50%’ being able to be infected by the virus. Even if that infection was asymptomatic, the mere fact that SARS-CoV-2 remains in circulation obviates the possibility of any kind of herd immunity.

Indeed Manuel Carmo Gomes told RR that he doubts very much that Portugal will be able to halt the weekly death tolls in the short-term future.

“With such a high viral load in the rest of the planet, we are constantly receiving new importations. I doubt very much that we will be able to halt cases of Covid-19 and deaths, every week. Sadly this is the panorama which I think will be with us for the next two to three years”.

By coincidence today (Saturday) has seen one of the highest daily death tolls reported in recent weeks (click here). Transmission has crept back to the ‘borderline’ of 1, and according to the government’s ‘risk matrix’ Portugal has exited the safe ‘green’ zone and is back in ‘yellow’.