Gouveia e Melo in his role as coordinator of Portugal's vaccinations task force

Vaccine wars: Vice-admiral in charge of Portugal’s roll-out defends use of Russian jab

Vice-admiral Henrique Gouveia e Mel in charge of Portugal’s vaccine roll-out is defending the use of Russia’s Sputnik V jab as long as it gets the European Medicines Agency (EMA) green-light.

Talking to Lusa, the 60-year-old stresses he defends the acquisition of “all possible vaccines”, “all long as they have quality, the necessary guarantees from credible regulators and can be administered on national territory”.

As he stressed, “if we have the chance of bringing more vaccines (to Portugal) to accelerate the protection of the population and contribute to freeing of the economy and society from the pandemic, I think all sensible Portuguese people would want this…”

“For me this is a war”

Dressed as he is in military camouflage, the vice-admiral explained that for him this mission as coordinator of Portugal’s vaccine task force “is a war”. A “combat that cannot be lost” – hence his choice of attire.

“If you look back at previous conflicts, which one has impacted to this degree on the Portuguese economy? Which conflict has killed so many people in such a short period of time? If this isn’t a combat, what is, he queried. 

Portugal’s current ‘vaccine portfolio

For the time being, Portugal’s vaccine portfolio is made up of Pfizer/ BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca (currently suspended, but likely to be reapproved imminently, if not today), Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) – already approved by European regulators, Sanofi/GSK and CureVac (neither yet approved for roll-out).

On March 4 EMA announced the beginning of a “continuous analysis” of Sputnik V to determine whether it ticks all the EU boxes on efficacy, safety and quality.

Meantime Portugal has administered roughly 1.2 million doses of vaccine (in other words more or less 10% of the population), of which only 350,000 relate to people receiving both doses. 

Despite the controversy raging about vaccine supplies to Europe, Portugal has enough stocks to secure the second doses of everyone who has received a first dose, said the vice-admiral, stressing policy this far has been to make as much use of availability of vaccines as possible.

Needless to say, the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday led to thousands of cancelled appointments, and widespread disappointment among members of the public who were expecting their first jabs this week. Gouveia e Melo continues to say the hiccup will be transitory.

Says Lusa, at the same time the vaccine coordinator is looking into the possibility of a new ‘extension’ of the time between administration of the two doses (of Pfizer/ Moderna/ AstraZeneca).

Portugal’s protocol in relation to the time-lapse between the Pfizer jabs has already moved from 21 days to 28. 

If authorities agree, it may now move a little bit further.

In England, for example, the time lapse has been extended to 12 weeks between first and second shots, even though there was no scientific evidence from the manufacturers to support this.

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