Priest’s vaccination exposes tension and queue jumping in Portugal

Head of inoculation programme forced to step down

A health worker labels a medicine in Cidade do Futebol, Portugal's soccer squad's training ground hotel facility, now receiving COVID-19 patients amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Lisbon, Portugal February 2, 2021. Picture taken February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
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The vaccination of a priest and his mother highlighted tensions in Portugal as controversies are exposed over coronavirus vaccine distribution.

The head of Portugal's vaccination task force, Francisco Ramos, was forced to quit after he became aware of queue-jumping irregularities at a hospital where he was chief executive.

Another weak link in its pandemic response was revealed when a German military plane landed with doctors and nurses on board to staff a hospital in Lisbon.

At its current rate of vaccination of just over 10,000 doses a day on average, Portugal will not reach its target of 70 per cent of vaccinated adults until 2023.

The goal was to reach that milestone in late summer this year by inoculating about 50,000 people a day.

A Portuguese army officer enters a German Air Force aircraft transporting a team of military medical personnel upon its arrival in Figo Maduro airbase, in Lisbon on February 3, 2021. Germany sent a team of 26 doctors, nurses and hygiene experts to Lisbon - and with them 50 ventilators and 150 infusion devices and hospital beds -  as part of an aid mission to combat covid-19 pandemic in Portugal.

A Portuguese army officer enters the German Air Force aircraft transporting a team of military medical personnel to Lisbon. AFP

Parish priest Joao Paulo Sarabando Marques admitted receiving a vaccine, but said he believed he was eligible because of the religious assistance he provides at two care homes.

Nurses denounced the vaccination, which happened before essential staff and firefighters had been placed on the priority list.

Regional health officials are investigating how the “the parish priest, family members of the nurses who administered the vaccine and other employees of the institution [who do not deal directly with coronavirus infections] will have received doses".

The new head of the country’s vaccination task force, Rear Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo, said he had a long list of tasks ahead.

He said he intended to tighten controls on who received the vaccine after the reports of queue jumping.

His predecessor, Mr Ramos, stepped down because of irregularities in selecting which health workers should be vaccinated at the Red Cross Hospital where he was chief executive.

The German military plane also carried ventilators and hospital beds to set up a unit of eight intensive care beds in the private Hospital da Luz, Lisbon, which was equipped but lacked staff to operate it.

Portuguese officials said they received fewer vaccines than promised from manufacturers and EU authorisation of more vaccines would help to accelerate the programme.

The European Centre for Disease Control, an EU agency, said in weekly data published on Thursday that Portugal received almost 387,000 vaccine doses.

A surge in January made Portugal the world’s worst-hit country by size of population, Johns Hopkins University data shows, and the vaccine programme brought hope during an extended lockdown.