Belgium announces vaccination strategy

A nurse dresses in protective clothing to be able to care for a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at the Vivalia Hospital Princess Paola Ifac in Marche-En-Famenne , Belgium, 20 November 2020. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

Belgium’s health ministers announced the country’s COVID-19 vaccination plans, including the order of priority groups to receive the vaccine on Thursday. However, health experts warn that this does not mean a quick return to business-as-usual.

“It seems that 2021 will be a new start, after a year that we might want to forget but cannot forget,” said Flemish Minister of Health Wouter Beke (CD&V), who chairs the Interministerial Conference on Public Health.

“It is not unthinkable that we will be able to start the first vaccinations at the beginning of January. To a limited extent, because the number of vaccines available will not yet be so high,” he added.

The first phase of the plan foresees a priority for all residents and healthcare professionals in residential care centres for the elderly, followed by those in other collective care institutions, including volunteers.

They will be followed by healthcare professionals in hospitals, healthcare personnel working in the first line and other staff members working in hospitals and in various health services.

The phase will also include the target group of people over 65 and risk patients between 45 and 65 with specific underlying disorders. The list of conditions is not yet definitive.

It will be followed by people working in essential social or economic professions.

Beke told Belgian media this would include police, fire brigades and civil protection, but that he would also want to include the education sector. A definitive list of professions has yet to be finalized.

The second phase would include other at-risk patients and adult population.

The vaccines will be administered by general practitioners and nurses, but due to a large number of people, additional staff is likely to be called in, with some experts having suggested pharmacists could be a part of this.

However, health experts warned that even those who will be vaccinated will need to adhere to the COVID-19 measures.

“It’s out together, at home together. We all have to stick to the measures until we have achieved sufficient immunity as a society,” infectologist Erika Vlieghe told VRT NWS.

(Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)

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