Photo: HUGO DELGADO/LUSA

Vaccine ‘insubordination’ in Porto sees health centre director suspended

The director of health centres in east Porto has been suspended today as a police investigation opens into why she took it upon herself to start vaccinating 18-year-olds in an initiative on Wednesday afternoon.

The ‘vaccination open house’ seems to have been organised as a way of marking the Festival of S. João (which took place yesterday, June 24, but which for obvious reasons couldn’t be publicly celebrated in any normal way).

The idea was that during the last two hours of Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, anyone over the age of 18 could turn up to ensure they had started their vaccination process in time for ‘the 4th wave’ (of infections, currently sweeping the country).

The whole thing might have been missed had it not been for 38-year-old television presenter Maria Cerqueira Gomes posting online that she and her 18-year-old model daughter Kika had taken advantage of the event, and had their first inoculations.

Various people ‘complained’, not understanding why age groups ineligible for vaccines had suddenly managed to get them.

For the vaccination task force run under military precision by naval vice-admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo, this was nothing short of an act of extreme insubordination.

He stressed: “this was a disobedience of the plan. Someone in a position of responsibility decides, outside of the plan to innovate and vaccinate people who are not at this moment eligible. I cannot dismiss people, but I have asked the managing structure to take consequences quickly.. There has to be discipline…”

The vice-admiral also contacted PJ police, who launched their investigation.

The situation in Portugal regarding vaccination should be that the only people who are entitled to walk-in to a health centre without an appointment and receive their first shots are the over-55s.

The vaccination roll-out is steaming through the lower cohorts, with over-35s already able to book their first shots through the self-scheduling platform (click here).

As Gouveia e Melo sought to clarify, 20-somethings are only programmed to start being vaccinated on July 4.

“When I say 20, it is from 18-30”, he said. “In the next two weeks we will have all age groups in the process of vaccination”.

With international experts warning of the potential dangers posed by the Delta variant (first identified in India), focus throughout Europe is on trying to vaccinate the highest numbers of people as possible.

Consensus appears to be that one shot “isn’t enough” when it comes to protection against the Delta variant. People need both.

Thus the plan in Portugal is to try and speed-up the process by increasing the hours of operation at vaccination centres, and aiming for the administration of 140,000 vaccines per day.

The initial ‘plan’ to reach herd immunity with 70% of the population at least partially vaccinated by early August has already suffered various wobbles. Experts argue that 70% won’t be enough in the face of the increasing spread of the Delta variant.

Another issue is supply.

Gouveia e Melo has actually said that the way things are going, he won’t have the supply he needs to reach the 70% goal by August 8.

These are just ‘today’s problems’. The situation could change long before we get to August.

As it is, infections are still rising in various areas, namely Lisbon and Vale do Tejo (+1,049 in just the last 24-hours), the north (+239), the Algarve (+159) and central region (+120).

The Alentejo is still in two-digit territory (+31 new infections) and the autonomous regions of Madeira and Azores are both with residual numbers (just 5 new infections in Madeira and only 1 in the Azores).

Deaths too are still residual – just two in today’s bulletin – while numbers in hospital are slowly increasing: with 431 people requiring specialist treatment for Covid symptoms, 108 of which are in intensive care.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com