By Catarina Demony
LISBON (Reuters) -Portugal will have enough coronavirus jabs to inoculate the whole population, with the distribution of the vaccines kicking off as soon as they arrive in the country, hopefully before the end of the year, the head of the vaccination task-force said.
“It would be intolerable to have vaccines in Portugal and not use them immediately,” vaccination chief Francisco Ramos told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, adding that there would be three main distribution points across the country, including in the Azores and Madeira islands.
He confirmed that vaccination would be free of charge and voluntary.
“It would be a big mistake to make it compulsory,” Ramos said, adding studies showed only around 10% of the population does not want to get vaccinated. “Those who refuse to take it should be respected.”
Portugal hopes to vaccinate nearly 10% of the population during the first phase.
Portugal, with just over 10 million people, plans to buy 22 million doses of COVID-19 shots and it has signed agreements to buy the vaccines with potential manufacturers CureVac, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson&Johnson, Sanofi and GSK.
The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is expected to arrive three days after the EU drug regulator is set to approve it on Dec. 21, Ramos said.
Ramos said the super cold storage units needed for the shots would be set up at the three distribution points but not at the 1,200 health centres where the jabs will be given to the population.
The shots can be stored at the central storage locations for around six months and would be transported in coolers to health centers to be administered straight away, he said. There, they can be stored for around 30 days in normal fridges.
The health centers head are ready to start vaccination and are identifying those to be vaccinated first, Ramos said.
Priority will be given to those over 50 with pre-existing conditions, frontline professionals, as well as people in care homes and intensive care units.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Ingrid Melander)