Much as many of its European neighbors, Portugal has been slow to roll out its Covid-19 vaccination plan. Only around 396,000 people have been vaccinated so far, according to the Portuguese Directorate-General of Health (DGS), representing roughly 3.8% of the population.
This number is considerably low especially as a recent study carried out online by DECO Proteste found that over 77% of those surveyed said they are open to receiving the vaccine, according to Observador.
Besides its slow speed, the implementation of the national vaccination plan has been riddled with controversy, including claims of fraud and multiple instances where non-priority individuals received the vaccine despite not meeting the criteria for the first phase of vaccination.
The irregularities in the administration of vaccines to health professionals at Hospital da Cruz Vermelha, for example, were so severe that they led Francisco Ramos, the director of the national vaccination plan taskforce, to resign last week, reports Público. The full extent and details of the abnormalities have yet to be disclosed.
But this has not been the only case of vaccine irregularities to come to light. Cases of individuals receiving the vaccine out of turn range from single individuals to huge groups, such as:
– in Setubal, 126 Segurança Social employees received the vaccine despite not being high-risk cases
– multiple incidences of local-level politicians, hospital administrators, and their family members being vaccinated in places like Famalicão, Viseu, Bragança, Seixal among others
– in Porto, employees from a bakery were vaccinated because the Instituto Nacional de Emergência Médica (INEM – National Institute of Medical Emergency) office next door had doses leftover and didn’t want to let them go to waste, according to Público.
Public authorities have come under fire for these discrepancies, leading public prosecutors to look into multiple claims of vaccine fraud. The Polícia Judiciária (PJ) is leading the investigations and is looking into crimes of abuse of power, receiving undue advantage, and prevarication related to the vaccination effort — offenses that can result in a five-year sentence, Expresso reports.
These cases of fraud have also led DGS to adjust their vaccine protocol and, according to Público, they now require all vaccine sites to create a standby list of potential vaccine recipients in case they have extra does. The list is aimed at ensuring that no doses get wasted, but that those who receive the vaccine are in fact high-priority cases.