Vaccine against Covid-19. Can I get it?

covid vaccine, how to get it?

We all have passed a rather dark year. What started – in the eyes of many – as just another but a little more serious flu that would pass in a couple of months, turned into a full-blast pandemic. Hardly anyone has ever lived anything remotely like this. Even when the first wave hit us all full-blast, we still thought it would pass in a couple of months and things would go back to normal by September. We now know it didn’t. Even now that people start to get vaccinated, things don’t get better. For some they are even getting worse with yet more bans and restrictions and many start wondering. Can we get the covid vaccine in Madeira?

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fed up

Even though we find life on our little island still relatively relaxed, we do have a serious curfew. And travel to many countries has been made virtually impossible. (You can find all restrictions in my article here.)

People get tired of covid measures. Even we, though living in a small corner of paradise, are fed up and want to get out. No wonder we are very anxious to get a vaccine against covid-19. It’s not even that we are very worried that we might catch corona. We still feel very safe here in Madeira. Especially as we live in a rural area and we can easily avoid large concentrations of people.  But we want all these bans and restrictions removed as soon as possible. We want to travel again and see our friends and family overseas after such a long time.

flu vaccine

The main question that worried us is if we, as foreign citizens and unofficial residents can get the vaccine here. Let me explain our personal situation. When we bought our house here over ten years ago, we fully intended to remain residents of the Netherlands. And for a number of good reasons. That was not a problem, as we spent half of our time sailing from our Dutch base. We only spend the winter months in our Madeira house. When the pandemic dragged on, a dear friend of ours, who is an experienced nurse, told us to get the flu jab. If we would get covid, our bodies would not have to fight a flu infection on top of it.

When we went to our local ‘centro de saúde’, the receptionist checked. She saw that we were already inscribed in the Sesaram (health organisation of Madeira) system. So, we could easily make the appointment for the flu jab. We got our jab a couple of days later. The nurse wanted us to stay for half an hour after the jab. Just to make sure we didn’t have an allergic reaction. But she permitted us to cross the street and wait there. I think she did realise that we’d wait at our favourite Poncha place Bar Formiga. It’s just across from the Centro de Saúde.

qa quick poncha after the flu vaccine was administered.
across the street is the Centro de Saúde where we got  flu vaccine

covid vaccine, can we get it?

When slowly the vaccination against covid-19 started on the island, we tried to find out if we were entitled to it, being non-residents. Normally, we would have travelled to the Netherlands and get the vaccine there later this spring, but as things are looking now, the Dutch government has practically blocked us from entering the country. There are possibilities to get there, but you need several expensive tests, at your own expense of course. The tests lose their validity if your flight is seriously delayed, not uncommon in Madeira. Simply too expensive and too risky timewise.

As long as Madeira is still on the ‘red list’ we will have to stay put. Time to find out if we can get the vaccine here. The first stop is, obviously,  the covidmadeira.pt website. Annoyingly, the chapter about who can receive the vaccine contradicts itself. In one sentence it says that the vaccine is for residents, in another instance it says the vaccine is for anyone on Portuguese territory.

the covid vaccine information  contains contradictions

Time to go back to the Centro de Saúde. The lady at reception knows us well by now, and she said that, according to her, we should automatically get a phone call from Sesaram to invite us to get the vaccine. It all sounded too good to be true.

numero de utente

When I examined the covidmadeira.pt site again, I found that you need to have a ‘numero de utente’, the user number, of the health system. With that number, you can get the vaccine. As I know we may not quite answer the requirements to get the vaccine, I didn’t want to rock the boat too much, so we waited until we saw the receptionist at Bar Formiga. I casually told her I would go and see her to get our ‘numero de utente’ sometime this week. Anytime, she answered.

But the next morning, she called us. She said that we have no numero de utente because we aren’t residents in Madeira. We belong to the população flutuante’, the‘fluctuating population’ of our village. Still, she said we could get the vaccine if we had a fiscal number here, which we do. So we went to see her, handed our fiscal cards plus a declaration from the taxman stating our fiscal address in Fajã da Ovelha. She then called her boss who said this should do the trick. We will have to wait and see, and when our category is up for vaccination, we should get a phone call.  

official residents

If you have a permanent residence here in Madeira, you are all set. You do need to check your inscription at the Centro de Saúde and make sure you are given the numero de utente. When you have that, you should be fine. You can check your information with this number, which is wise, as they may either contact you by text message, email or phone and you want to make sure that the information they entered is correct. Go to https://www.sesaram.pt/portaldoutente/ and register, using the user number and check if everything is correct. If that is the case, you will just have to wait until it’s your turn.

registering to get the vaccine

grey area

As opposed to official residents, we find ourselves in a grey area. We are EU citizens, which does help, but I can imagine that many find themselves in a similar situation because of travel restrictions and bans. The best you can do is go to your local health centre and check if they have your details. If you have your own accommodation here, you may consider applying for residence, but that depends on many of your personal circumstances. Once you are a resident, you can get your user number of the Sesaram which automatically entitles you to be vaccinated. If you are not and/or cannot be a resident, try to improvise using your NIF number. If all else fails, you can try to get help from your national embassy or, if there is one here, the consulate.

good news, update on April 2nd, 2021

It seems to have dawned on the Portuguese government that not vaccinating a group of people is counterproductive.

It concerns those who may not have an official residency status but who do reside in Portugal and may therefore pose a danger if they remain unvaccinated. Like us, for instance. Therefore, a decision has been announced – thanks to Berendina and Maurice for bringing this to our attention, it turns out to be first published by Mr. Rob Kean who informed Mrs Tig James of the Facebook Group ‘British in Portugal’ – that anyone who stays in Portugal for any reason is eligible to be vaccinated. For this purpose, a form has been put online where you can apply without the ‘numero de utente’ that some find difficult if not impossible to get.

I printed the form and added the meaning of the Portuguese terms in English. So where you have to select ‘UK’ you look for ‘Reino Unido de Grã Bretanha etc.’ Germans look for Alemanha and the Dutch look for Países Baixos. Anyway, here is the link to the online form. If you have finished filling out the form and you click on ‘sumbeter’, it can happen that a pink bar appears at the top of the form. Then you have not filled out something, or – and this happened to both Noud and me – the type of ID that you had clicked on disappeared when typing the number. Select it again. You’ll get an on-screen message when your form has been submitted successfully.

If you prefer to see the image full-screen to decipher my handwriting, then this the link.

For now, we are patiently waiting, thank heavens for a comfortable house here, and hope for the best. As soon as we have news about our vaccination we will add the information here. Meanwhile, stay safe and stay negative. And hold on!

Update April 21, 2021: YES: got the first jab!

Over the moon to tell you that the Portuguese and Madeiran system works. Out of the blue we got a phone call from the Calheta Centro de Saúde to make our jab appointment. Read how that went here.

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By Peter Groen

Peter was born in Amsterdam in 1949. He has a history in PR and copywriting. Now, part time resident of the Island of Madeira of over 10 years, he writes about Madeira, its culture, its overwhelming nature, its food and drink, and about everything concerning travel to and on this beautiful island.

28 comments

  1. Thank you Peter for the very useful information. I am in a slightly strange position. I am a resident of Madeira but had to travel back to the UK in early February to complete the sale of my house there. While there, I was offered the Pfizer vaccine and took it without hesitation. I am traveling back to Madeira next week (via a non direct route as there are no direct UK-Portugal flights yet of course) and this is of course well before I would be eligible for my second dose of the vaccine. in the UK. I have now completed the form and when contacted by Madeiran authorities, I will make them aware that I have already had the first dose and only require a second and that as I don’t believe the mixing of doses is yet authorized, it will need to be pfizer. I wonder about timing. The 12 week window the UK is operating to for the second dose will be up at the end of May, which may be a bit optimistic for receiving a vaccine in Madeira – I’m 63. I will “play it by ear” and if there is no word by mid May I will attempt to make contact with the authorities to determine the best course of action. I will also make my doctor in madeira aware of my situation…. perhaps he can offer some advice. Thanks again.

    1. Craig, another batch of 23,400 doses has arrived on the island with more go follow. They seem be sticking to the 4-week gap on the island so I would contact your usual doctors as soon as you get back on the island. The second dose must be no more than 12 weeks after the first although I have no idea what happens if it is more than 12 weeks.

      1. Maurice… yes I read about the large shipment of vaccines – good news! My doctor in Madeira is excellent so I will absolutely contact him as soon as I return. I agree… it’s the timing which worries me if it goes over the 12 week mark.

    2. Do you have an international certificate of vaccination, (the yellow booklet) which is also used for yellow fever etc etc… If so you can ask your doctor to fill it out with the pfizer vaccination you had. Our experience is that the centro de saude in Calheta is very keen on that and fill it out to the nines.

      1. Hello Noud. I do not I’m afraid. I did not receive any confirmation paperwork here when I received the first dose, which I thought was pretty shabby. I have contacted my local health authority to explain the situation and have asked them if they can provide me with a certificate or proof of vaccination to show to the health authorities in Madeira. Fingers crossed…

        1. I know that health workers have been very reluctant to give any proof of vaccination. I don’t know why, they bl**dy well should have, but indeed, your best bet is your GP here. Let us know how this continues please, it may be useful for other readers.

          1. I’d be happy to report my progress Peter… consider me a “guinea pig”! I agree that proof of vaccination should be supplied. I expect that it is stored on a mass data base somewhere, but that doesn’t do us much good! Take care.

            1. We got an NHS credit-card sized card with details of the vaccination written on it. I can also see the full information if I log into our NHS Patient Access System. As soon as we have had our 2nd jab I will print this off to see if it could be used as proof of vaccination.

              1. Hi Maurice. That’s what I expected. But I’m in Scotland and it seems that NHS Scotland does things differently (don’t get me started on that!). I’ve never accessed the patient access system. Will try and have a look. Thanks!

                1. Craig, I found the information under — more-> medical record-> medication-> acute

                  I just hope that printing it will have an NHS banner. If so I can print to off to upload to madeirasafe and keep a printed copy. At some point soon the NHS will provide it as a “passport” and BE are going to as well.

    1. Olga, there are numerous sites out there that educate people about making an informed choice about whether or not to vaccinate. Anyone who needs it can find it that way. This site is a clear advocate in favor of vaccination.

    2. Sorry Olga, feel free to oppose to vaccination, but I am in favour and since this is my private blog, I choose not to offer a platform for vaccination-sceptics.

  2. Hi Peter,

    Thanks you for sharing your experience and the details of it in a very well written article. I will be totally stealing and using your excellent and funny phrase: stay negative!

    It seems so counterintuitive that people should have to travel between countries to receive a vaccination. That is both from the perspective of the situation overall and the increased risk of country-to-country transmission, and from the point of the individual: the very thing you make a long journey to protect yourself from requires that you expose yourself to maximum risk.

    There are many instances of poorly executed plans and hastily set up measures in some countries (beyond Madeira which did things early and well, relatively) where the risk is actually increased for those who are in quarantine. That is completely senseless. And those (often hotel employees) trying to do their best in a bad situation have ended up contracting and transmitting the virus themselves from within quarantine.

    Because so many across the world have worked so hard, quickly and diligently to produce a range of vaccines with such high efficacy, lights at the end of all of our long, dark tunnels have been switched on. Without them, our circumstances would be much darker. Due to this, It seems to make sense – as we have come this far – to remain patient a bit longer. What a waste it would be if we f*cked up the endgame.

    Thank you again

    Steve

    1. Hi
      Steve, feel free to use anything you find here. As opposed to some, we are not in it for a quick buck, and if there is anything here that can help others, copy and abuse away!.
      I totally agree that one should not be forced to travel in order to get protection against this virus, that would be extremely shortsighted. Still, I know of Ishbel who commented here as well, that they are no longer eligible for a vaccine here or anywhere else in Portugal, as the UK saw fit to leave the European Union. It is probably a question of who pays the bill. Anyway, that is not up to us. cheers!

      1. Cheers, Peter. Of course, with my practical and wider-thinking hat on, I accept that each country and region has to focus on the priority of its own people within first, before seeking to help others.

        All things considered, I am somewhat grateful to be ‘stranded’ in lovely Madeira. Could be worse – I could have melons instead of hands.

  3. You better first do your own research about what is the substance that is called vaccines from “new” never isolated virus. This is not a vaccine the one we knew before. It’s totally new technology. Do your own research and think twice.

    1. What on earth are you trying to say, Olga? That the vaccines are not to be trusted? Unless you have all qualifications on a pharmaceutical level to judge, and you have done a lot of research we have no-where read about, this sounds a lot like a complot-theory. If you don’t want to take the vaccine because you don’t trust it, no-one will force the needle into your arm. Feel free to do whatever you think is best for you. But I don’t do complot-theories. An great deal of research has been done by many, many dedicated people so I will take the vaccine without hesitation.

      1. That’s exactly what I’m saying. And yes I do have enough qualifications based on deep research as well as medical studies. We are in a very hard time for humanity where censorship and misleading information is powered by manipulation of mass media and ignoring voices of true science. And here is a tip for life: always think for yourself and do your own research.

        1. 20 million people vaccinated in the UK and infection rates dropping. There is the science! The vaccines are working. They do not sterilize women, turn men into homosexuals, alter DNA, or any of the other lies that are being peddled on the Internet.

          1. Exactly, Maurice. It’s an empty comment to tell people they always need to do their own research. I do not have any pharmaceutical education so researching these vaccines? I’ll give it a pass. And Olga voices complots. And I wont lend an ear to complots. And for what it’s worth: the vaccines don’t need to turn men into homosexuals, at least not me, nature has taken care of that. So bring it on!

  4. Very interesting Peter and informative. We went to the Estreito health centre 2 weeks ago with our NIF and Portuguese tax info. Because UK is no longer in the EU we are no eligible now, they suggested we took out Residency here but because of pension implications and driving licence implications we do not want to do that s so we will await our return to the UK
    Many thanks

    1. What a mess for you. I suppose you are eternally grateful to your government (NOT). Having said that, we also have to wait and see what happens. we hope and think we’ll get the vaccine, but we’llknow for sure once we actually have it. Take care.

      1. Had my first jab of AstraZeneca on Jan 30th.

        People need to be sensible and have the vaccine, whichever one, as soon as it is offered. Do not be like the French & Germans who were misled by stupid politicians into thinking the AstraZeneca vaccine is no good. In fact it has been shown here in the UK that the first dose IS 90% effective and that waiting 10 to 12 weeks for the second dose is even more effective than a 4 week gap. This 12 week gap also holds true for the Pfizer vaccine.

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