LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal will refocus its COVID-19 inoculation campaign towards vulnerable age groups and away from key state workers such as the police and firefighters due to scarce vaccine supplies, the head of its vaccination taskforce was quoted as saying.
Portugal, like many European Union countries, has been slow to get its vaccination programme started. It had hoped to receive 4.4 million doses by the end of March but supply shortages mean that only 2.5 million will arrive by then.
"This is an example of adapting our strategy to the circumstances... focusing on saving lives, now that the highest priority health professionals have been seen to," Henrique Gouveia e Melo told the Expresso newspaper.
Portugal had initially focused on vaccinating frontline health and care home workers, expanding the list of top priority groups last week to include the military, firefighters, security services, and a handful of key political figures including cabinet ministers, public prosecutors and some lawmakers.
But Gouveia e Melo said 90% of doses would now go to people aged over 80 or to over-50s with pre-existing health conditions.
Officials at the vaccination taskforce were not immediately available to confirm his comments.
Portugal has only fully vaccinated 2% of its 10 million people so far, government data show. Of the close to 700,000 doses which have arrived in Portugal, nearly 580,000 have been administered.
The government has said it aims to have 70% of people fully vaccinated by the end of the summer.
Firefighters had pushed to be among the first groups to be vaccinated, given that their role in transporting patients to hospitals exposes them to a high risk of contracting the virus.
Gouveia e Melo took over as chief of the vaccination taskforce this month after his predecessor had to step down in a controversy over cases of queue-jumping for vaccine doses.
Portugal, which has reported 792,829 COVID-19 cases and 15,754 deaths, experienced a devastating surge in cases at the start of 2021. The daily toll has fallen in recent weeks under a nationwide lockdown in place since Jan. 15 and due to last until at least March.
(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee, editing by Andrei Khalip and Gareth Jones)