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Countdown to vaccine Monday: first vaccines arrive

Leuven University Hospital, UZ Leuven, in Flemish Brabant has received the first batch of Pfizer/BioNTech corona vaccines.  The hospital will serve as the central hub for distribution of the vaccine across Belgium.

The vaccines need to be stored at freezing temperatures. Some 10,000 doses of the vaccine were delivered in Leuven on Saturday. Security was in evidence as the vaccines arrived at 9AM after their journey from the factory in Puurs (Antwerp Province) where they are made.  9,750 doses were divided over 975 trays that need to be kept at -75°C in an ultra-freezer.

Thomas De Rijdt, head of the UZ’s pharmacy: “The vaccines were delivered in sealed shipper boxes.  We checked they were intact.  As this was the case, we placed them in our freezer at ultralow temperatures.”

Defrosting will start on Sunday afternoon.  The defrosting process isn’t complicated but needs to be carried out carefully and requires time.

The vaccines are then moved to a refrigerator with a temperature between 2°C and 8°C.  They can then be stored in the fridge for a further five days. Once defrosted the vaccines are prepared for further shipment in cooled transports. Together with syringes and the solution needed to dilute the vaccine the doses are transported to the first care homes that will use the vaccines.

“We’ve been working extremely hard with our team for months now to get everything ready.  Today was the first test and it was a success” says Thomas De Rijdt.  “Vaccination is a first step in vanquishing the virus.  UZ Leuven is honoured to be chosen as the first hospital hub and first symbolic distribution centre.  We are pleased to be able to place our know how at its disposal.”

In all 41 hospital hubs will be responsible for the distribution of the vaccine in coming months.

The first vaccines will be administered on Monday.  Residents at a care home in Puurs-Sint-Amands, close to the Pfizer plant where the vaccines are produced, will be among the first to get the jab.

Jos Hermans (96) of the Sint-Pieters care home in Puurs Sint-Amands will be the first Belgian to be immunised.

500 of the 10,000 doses delivered today will be used in the first care homes to receive the vaccine.

Care homes in Mons (Wallonia) and Sint-Pieters-Woluwe (Brussels) are also on Monday’s list.

On 28 December residents at four care homes in Flemish Brabant will be immunised ahead of a second pilot phase of the vaccination programme that starts on 30 December.

Pfizer vaccines from the Belgian plant in Puurs are being transported across Europe.  In Rome carabinieri escorted a transport of nearly ten thousand doses to their destination in the Italian capital yesterday evening.  Transports have also arrived in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Austria.

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