"Green light for first corona vaccines at the end of year or the start of next year” says vaccinologist

The Antwerp University vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme has told VRT News that the first coronavirus vaccines could be given the green light at the end of this year or the start of 2021. Professor Van Damme is part of a special taskforce that has been set up to prepare Belgium’s coronavirus vaccination programme. Speaking in response to the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s comments on Thursday that the first vaccines could be granted a provisional licence for use in the EU as soon as next month, Professor Van Damme told VRT News that “Things are advancing well”. 

Just as we have passed the peak of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in Belgium there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. The first vaccines to protect us from the virus will be available soon, probably at the start of next year.

Tests carried out vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have shown them to be 95% effective. The next hurdle is for the vaccines to be given the approval by the relevant licencing authorities. Here too things are moving fast with the first coronavirus vaccines possible being granted a provincial licence for sale in the European Union as early as month. 

The news that vaccines could be licenced before the end of the year came from the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after a video conference with EU leaders on the approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic. 

Quality control

Professor Van Damme told VRT News that “This means that things are advancing well. We can expect that the licencing authority will give the green light at the end of this year or possibly at the start of next year and that the first vaccines can then be rolled out in Europe”.

It will be 2021 before the first people can be vaccinated “because we must be realistic”.

The first batch of vaccines delivered will still need to be subjected to quality control checks as is the norm with all new pharmaceutical products. Here in Belgium this task falls to the public health science institute Sciensano. Once the checks have been carried out Sciensano will give its advice. If this is positive vaccination will be able to commence.

Each EU country will have to draw up its own vaccination strategy. Professor Van Damme is part of the taskforce whose job it is to plan the vaccination programme her in Belgium. 

He told VRT News that the taskforce will use all the time available to it to get the plan drawn up quickly so that vaccination can start as soon as vaccines are available. The taskforce needs to examine how the vaccines can be stored, how they can be distributed, how the vaccines should be administered and by whom and how records should be kept on who has been vaccinated, which is especially important if a second vaccination is required. 

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