Vaccination programme: can’t we speed it up a bit?

Yesterday it emerged that seniors outside care homes and patients with chronic diseases in the 45-to-65 age bracket would only start to be vaccinated against coronavirus in May.  Vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme (Antwerp University) says everything depends on the availability of vaccines: “We really would like to immunise youngsters before the summer”.

Next summer.  That, according to Belgium’s vaccination roll-out programme, is the time when Belgian youngsters can start to look forward to getting a corona jab.  Vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme says he and his team would like to do all they can to bring this forward but that depends on the approval and availability of vaccines.

Symbolic immunisations start on Monday with care homes first in line starting 5 January; It will be the turn of health workers and first responders from March onwards under the present planning.

Pierre Van Damme: “We’ve been working round the clock to draw up scenarios.  We have Pfizer. Moderna should be approved in early January, Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) in March.  If approval and supply of vaccines goes smoothly, we can revisit our timetable and start to switch things around.”

“Every week a working party that considers which groups get priority meets to receive feedback from the field and the ethics commission.  We want to be flexible and can adapt the vaccination programme as we go along. The more vaccines that become available, the more quickly we can vaccinate groups in parallel or bring them forward.”

News that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine could be approved and rolled out in the UK soon has also been welcomed here.  Belgium has ordered 7.5 million doses of the vaccine, the highest number of any vaccine ordered so far.  Two doses are needed.  The Oxford vaccine is cheaper than its rivals and does not need to be stored at extremely low temperatures.

If it is swiftly approved by the European authorities, Belgium’s vaccination drive could also be speeded up.  Prof Van Damme believes the Oxford vaccine could be approved in the EU within a month: “If everything goes well this could speed up our vaccination strategy.  I believe we will have a clearer view in February”.



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