Copyright © 2020, Haris Mulaosmanovic, licensed via EyeEm Mobile GmbH

How come there’s such a slow start to Belgium’s vaccination campaign?

 By Sunday night only 700 people had received their corona vaccine, while 10,000 doses have been delivered and abroad vaccinations are proceeding apace.  How come?

Belgium’s receiving 87,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine – produced in Belgium - each week, but by the end of this week no more than 6,000 people will have been inoculated. Pierre Van Damme is a vaccinologist and member of the group of experts drawing up Belgium’s immunisation strategy.  He explains Belgium’s decided to make sure every step in the process functions properly before upscaling.

“People should understand we are starting and upscaling this process in a way that ensures quality.  Defrosting and sticking to time storage limits are skills that need to be acquired.”

Joris Moonens of the Care and Health Agency says hospitals are being given time to master the procedure:  “We don’t want to make any mistakes and waste vaccines.”

Prof Van Damme speaks of “errors abroad”: overdosing and vaccines that are not stored properly: “We are learning a lot.  A lot of practical information is being exchanged.”

“First people said the development of the vaccine went too quickly.  Now they all want to be vaccinated ASAP. Our task is to ensure upscaling happens quickly.”

Prof Van Damme believes vaccinations will soon be at cruising speed, especially, if expected, the Moderna vaccine is approved this week.

The existing planning aims to see all care home residents immunised by the end of January.  Health care workers follow. 

Belgium has decided more research is needed before deciding whether or not to allow more time between administering the first and second dose of the vaccine.  It’s a debate that is raging as a new variant takes hold in the UK and could spread to Belgium. 

Flanders is today starting a public awareness campaign to convince people to get vaccinated.  Initially the focus is on care homes and health workers.

Joris Moonens lists the known side effects: “soreness where the injection is given, maybe a slight fever.  Side effects soon disappear.  Most people experience no trouble at all.”

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