Secretary of State for Health visits Algarve hospitals and promises “zero tolerance” for Covid-vaccine “queue jumping”

Portugal’s Secretary of State for Health travelled to the Algarve on Monday (February 1) to visit the region’s public hospitals in Faro and Portimão and promised “zero tolerance” for anyone who is found “jumping the line” in vaccination programme.

The promise was made shortly after Portimão Mayor Isilda Gomes found herself at the centre of controversy for being vaccinated against Covid-19 in January ahead of some health professionals and other “priority groups” (click here).

While he refused to comment specifically about the controversy involving Isilda Gomes, António Lacerda Sales said that the vaccination programme is rooted in “scientific evidence” and has been adapted as the situation evolves.

“It is unacceptable to divert vaccines or vaccinate citizens that aren’t in the priority plan. And our tolerance is certainly zero,” he told reporters during his visit.

The secretary of state said he was unaware of the criteria used by some institutions to decide who should receive any “leftover vaccines” but stressed that the goal should be to get them to those who “need it the most, especially the most vulnerable”.

“I will never comment on any particular cases as there could be specific details I am not aware of,” Sales said, adding that any violation of the vaccination plan will be “unacceptable, no matter who is involved”.

He also explained that audits are being carried out this week by the inspection board for health activities (IGAS) and that measures can also be taken to punish people on a “disciplinary and criminal level” if any foul play regarding vaccine administration is proven.

“This will provide credibility and confidence in the vaccination process,” the secretary of state said.

Sales did say, however, that even those who are found to have “jumped the line”, and have already received the first shot of the vaccine, will be entitled to the second.

He also took the opportunity to thank the Algarve’s health professionals who have been on the front line of the fight against the pandemic as well as the Algarve University Hospital Board (CHUA) for the work it has accomplished to admit patients from other parts of Portugal.

“The work carried out by the teams at the Faro and Portimão hospitals as well as the Portimão Arena field hospital has been very important,” the secretary of state said, stressing the “solidarity” that the Algarve has shown to other regions, which will be “reciprocal” if the need arises.

Lacerda Sales is also hopeful that the situation is starting to improve gradually.

“Although we are still under great pressure,” he reported a slowdown in the rate of transmission and said that he hopes the formula of “going into lockdown, protecting the most vulnerable and vaccinating” will continue to prove successful.

He also said it is “normal” for the vaccination process to move along faster or slower at times, depending on the “availability of vaccines”.

“Today we have over 338,000 doses administered, 68,000 of which include a second dose. I think it’s a very reasonable number,” he said.

Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper.