Portugal's emergency services workers bumped down vaccine priority list

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal will refocus its COVID-19 inoculation campaign towards vulnerable groups and away from some key state workers such as police and firefighters owing to scarce vaccine supplies, officials said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Medical workers wait to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Santa Maria hospital in Lisbon, Portugal, December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo

Portugal, like many European Union countries, has been slow to get its vaccination programme started. It had hoped to receive 4.4 million doses by the end of March but supply shortages mean that only 2.5 million will arrive by then.

“We must understand that not everyone can be vaccinated at the same time,” Health Secretary Antonio Lacerda Sales told reporters, emphasising that over-80s and over-50s with known ailments were the “major priority”, though that would not mean completely stopping vaccination of security personnel.

The head of Portugal’s vaccination taskforce, Henrique Gouveia e Melo, told the Expresso newspaper that strategy had to be adapted to the circumstances to “focus on saving lives”.

Gouveia e Melo, who took the taskforce’s helm this month after his predecessor stepped down in a controversy over vaccine queue-jumping, said that 90% of doses would now go to people aged over 80 or to over-50s with pre-existing health conditions.

Firefighters who transport patients to hospitals would continue to receive the vaccine, the interior ministry said in a statement after the Firefighter League expressed concern over the new plans.

Police on the frontline of the pandemic, and those with pre-existing conditions would also remain on the priority list. Those officers total 20,000, about half of the total patrol force.

Portugal initially focused on vaccinating frontline health and care home workers, but last week moved to include the military, firefighters, security services, plus a handful of key political figures including cabinet ministers, public prosecutors and some lawmakers.

Of the close to 700,000 doses that have arrived in Portugal, nearly 580,000 have been administered, with a little more than 2% of the population fully vaccinated.

The government has said it aims to have 70% of people fully vaccinated by the end of the summer.

Portugal, which has reported 794,769 COVID-19 cases and 15,821 deaths, experienced a devastating surge in cases at the start of 2021. The daily toll has fallen in recent weeks under a nationwide lockdown in place since Jan. 15, which is scheduled to last until at least March.

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