Portugal to share COVID-19 shots with its former colonies in Africa, E.Timor

A medical worker prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Sao Jose Hospital in Lisbon, Portugal, January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal will send 5% of its COVID-19 vaccine shots to a group of Portuguese-speaking African countries and to the tiny nation of East Timor in the second half of the year, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said on Wednesday.

With a population of just over 10 million people, Portugal is entitled to 35 million vaccine doses this year under an EU-coordinated purchasing scheme, mostly for double-dose inoculation, leaving it with millions of extra shots. The 5% share would make up 1.75 million doses.

The group of countries is comprised of Portugal’s former African colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe.

Santos Silva told reporters the distribution of vaccines among these countries, as well as the former colony of East Timor in southeast Asia, was part of a “bilateral cooperation” effort. Local health workers will be trained to administer the shots.

African nations are struggling to obtain vaccines for their combined 1.3 billion people, and only some of the continent’s nations have begun administering doses.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization’s global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX delivered its first COVID-19 shots to Ghana. The European Union has contributed an additional 500 million euros to COVAX.

“Supporting international vaccination is essential for the eradication of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said during an online event. “No country in the world will be safe until everyone is safe,” he added.

Portugal’s announcement came after French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that Europe and the United States should without delay send enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa to inoculate healthcare workers.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Hugh Lawson