Vaccine task force coordinator, Vice Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo, visiting the Alcabideche vaccination centre (Cascais) on August 21, when 12-15-year-olds were receiving their first dose of the Covid-19 jab Photo: TIAGO PETINGA/LUSA

Portuguese ‘recovered from Covid’ encouraged to get vaccinated after 90 days

People in Portugal who have recovered from infection by SARS-CoV-2 – or indeed from full-blown Covid-19 – are being encouraged to get vaccinated within 90 days.

The news has been repeated almost mechanically throughout the media – with no scientific explanation as to why policy is changing for a second time.

Previously, people recovered were told they should take up the vaccine six months after infection – and that only one dose was deemed necessary.

Now, the time lag is being cut by half, and two doses are required.

The reality is that no-one who has been infected by SARS-CoV-2 and/ or weathered Covid-19 naturally can be ‘recognised’ as recovered for the purposes of a Digital Green Certificate unless they have been vaccinated afterwards.

This means people who have natural immunity cannot travel freely, or – in Portugal at least – go to restaurants at weekends, concerts, and other indoor events.

The trouble with this policy is that it doesn’t ‘gel’ with the most latest data.

A new study coming out of Israel last week suggests immunity gained after recovering from a bout of Covid-19 is more protective against the Delta variant than vaccine-induced immunity.

“Natural immunity was estimated to be about 13 times stronger than having two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine”, explains an article in (click here).

Elsewhere, confirms that “people who once had a SARS-CoV-2 infection were much less likely than never-infected vaccinated people to get Delta, develop symptoms from it, or become hospitalised with serious Covid-19.

As the online stresses, “the study demonstrates the power of the human immune system, but infectious disease experts emphasised that (the Pfizer) vaccine and others for Covid-19 nonetheless remain highly protective against severe disease and death”.

The Washington Post has addressed the research, carrying an opinion article yesterday entitled: “Yes, you can get some immunity from having covid-19. But no one should wait to get vaccinated”…

The paper stresses it would be “grievously wrong” for people to forgo vaccination and instead opt for infection.

But that is getting away from the point.

The point made in Portugal as of today is that people who have been infected and recovered, must not only take up two doses of vaccine, but they are now being encouraged to do this twice as quickly as previously advised.

And there really appears to be no overriding scientific reason given as to why.

Meantime, in India some experts have made the case that “vaccines may do more harm than good to those recovered from Covid-19” (click here)

The bottom line is that given the risks that everyone is exposed to in becoming vaccinated, there is no point courting those risks when immunity is already more robust than protection about to be ‘conferred’.

It is a highly contentious issue – but it is not being presented as such in Portugal.

Articles have run along the lines that by bringing forward the time-lag between infections and vaccinations, Portugal will reach its target of having 85% of the population fully-vaccinated “more quickly” and the country will be able to ‘reopen’ society “earlier than originally predicted”.

In other words it has been a logistical decision.

Indeed, according to Público, the decision was made by the vaccine task force “before the DGS (general health directorate) had altered its guidance”.

DGS health director Graça Freitas was “taken by surprise”, says the paper. But her authority went along with the vaccination task force nonetheless.

The task force’s focus on getting as many citizens as possible to roll-up their sleeves and get vaccinated as quickly as possible has already earned Portugal undeniable Brownie points. According to our World in Data, Portugal is a world leader when it comes to its share of people vaccinated against Covid-19 (74% of citizens have had their full quota of shots, 11% are on their way with initial shots already received. The total percentage of people vaccinated in this country is 85%).

But it is also fully accepted now that vaccine effectiveness wanes over a period of months,  which is why experts – even those in Portugal – have said the debate needs to move beyond these vaccines (click here) and consider a more long-term strategy to ensure the safety of the population.