Voluntary and free: Portugal approves COVID-19 vaccination plan

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal on Thursday announced plans to vaccinate people against the coronavirus voluntarily and free of charge, and said it hoped to inoculate nearly 10% of the population during the first phase that will kick off next month.

FILE PHOTO: People hold a conversation near Comercio square during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Lisbon, Portugal November 7, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Priority will be given to those over 50 with pre-existing conditions, such as coronary disease or lung problems, frontline professionals from sectors such as health, military and security, as well as people in care homes and intensive care units.

The first phase should be completed between January and February, Francisco Ramos, the coordinator of the government’s vaccination task force, said. He also said first phase could extend into April if there were delays.

Shots will be administered at 1,200 vaccination points in health centres across the country.

“We can already see the light at the end of the tunnel but not all vaccines arrive on the first day... they will gradually arrive throughout the year,” said Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

Another 2.7 million people will get vaccinated during the second phase of the plan, including those aged 65 and over, and the rest of the population is expected to be vaccinated during a third phase.

Health Minister Marta Temido said the country would buy 22 million doses of COVID-19 shots for 200 million euros ($243.14 million). It had signed agreements to buy the shots with potential manufacturers CureVac, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson&Johnson, Sanofi and GSK.

Pfizer’s Portuguese unit said on Wednesday it would be able to distribute its vaccine three days after the European Union’s medicines agency has given the green light.

Portugal, with a population of about 10 million people, has reported 307,618 coronavirus cases, with 4,724 deaths.

After a relatively mild first wave of the disease compared with countries such as Spain or Italy, Portugal has suffered record number of infections and deaths during the second wave over the past few weeks.

Reporting by Lisbon Bureau, Writing by Catarina Demony, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Jane Merriman