Belgium’s federal agency for medicines and health products, known as FAGG in Dutch, expects the vaccine to be available in Belgium by next March. But Erika Vlieghe, the expert in infectious diseases who heads the governments’ panel of advisers, is more cautious: “We shouldn’t take it for granted we’ll be immunising people in March”.
Vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme of Antwerp University notes that the European commission hasn’t indicated when vaccine programmes will be rolled out. He warns against grandstanding by the Americans and even the Europeans. He believes March 2021 is the best case scenario: “A number of businesses is busy with the third and last phase of development to see if their vaccine works. Up to 30,000 people are involved in each test. The first results won’t be in before the end of the year. It will be 2021 before the go ahead can be given to market any vaccine”.
Prof Van Damme, whose lab is also helping to develop a vaccine, believes mid 2021 is a far more realistic date for the immunisation of people at risk: care workers and patients at risk – between 3 and 4 million people in Belgium. It’s unclear when everybody will be immunised. It also still needs to be seen whether one jab will be sufficient or boosters will be needed.
And even when a vaccine hits the market, many people won’t be standing in the queue. A survey conducted by the World Economic Forum revealed 30% of Belgians are considering not getting immunised. People are worried the vaccine might not be safe. Prof Van Damme insists all the usual steps in vaccine development are being followed. The speed of the present development can be explained by the fact the decks have been cleared in order to do the work.