Portugal sets up taskforce to prepare COVID-19 vaccine distribution

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FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective mask speaks with a driver of a tram during the coronavirus outbreak in Lisbon, Portugal
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective mask speaks with a driver of a tram during the coronavirus outbreak in Lisbon, Portugal

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal has set up a taskforce to come up with a COVID-19 vaccination strategy and hopes to be prepared to start distributing shots as early as January, Health Minister Marta Temido said on Thursday.

Temido said experts were working to decide which groups should get the vaccine first as well as distribution logistics from transport to storage.

"There's a possibility one of the first vaccines will arrive in January," Temido told reporters. "What we want is for the country to be prepared to ensure storage, distribution and safe use."

Without elaborating, Temido said vaccines that could arrive in January were part of one of several agreements made between the European Commission and pharmaceutical companies.

Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna and Russia have all released interim data from trials of their potential vaccines showing more than 90% efficacy, buoying hopes that effective remedies against the respiratory pandemic may be ready for use soon.

Ae country of just over 10 million people, Portugal has recorded a comparatively low 246,015 coronavirus cases and 3,623 deaths but, like most European countries, infections have been rising and are putting the health system under pressure.

A new record of 3,051 COVID-19 patients were in hospital on Wednesday, with 432 in intensive care units - more than the first wave peak of 271 in April.

Portugal's 14-day cumulative number of reported coronavirus cases per 100,000 people is now 785, higher than hard-hit Spain and United Kingdom, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

A nationwide state of emergency to combat the spread of the virus came into force last week, with measures including a night-time curfew and a half-day lockdown on weekend days, and is due to last until Nov. 23, but is likely to be extended. A tiered system of coronavirus restrictions is also on the table.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Patricia Vicente Rua; Editing by Mark Heinrich)