Belgian health minister Vandenbroucke lashes out at EMA

Belgian health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Flemish socialist/Vooruit) has clarified the decision only to use the AstraZeneca vaccine on over 55s.  Mr Vandenbroucke says we have the luxury of choosing out of several vaccines and in this way, we can spread the risk. The health minister is not impressed by the performance of the European Medicines Agency: “It has homework to do” he says.

Belgium decided to pause the use of the vaccine developed at Oxford University for a month.  The decision won’t impact on Belgium’s vaccination strategy. Yesterday’s decision came following the emergence of evidence that there is possibly an extremely small risk that the vaccine causes blot clots in younger people, especially women.

Yesterday’s decision came on the back on an update from the European Medicines Agency about the blood clot side effect. A month ago several countries suspended the use of this vaccine amid side effect fears.  Belgium did not do so.  Frank Vandenbroucke: “To have decided to stop using the vaccine would have unravelled our vaccination campaign.  Luckily, we didn’t do that, because it saved lives.”

“Today we have a choice of vaccines and we can consider what the best vaccine is to give to which people.  Belgium’s High Council for Health says that if you have a choice and it won’t disrupt the campaign, then use AstraZeneca on older people and use other vaccines on the young.  In that way the risk is spread.”

“Only using AstraZeneca on over 55s will not impact on the vaccination drive. Not at all.”

“It’s of no importance because in the main we are practically only vaccinating older people.  The few younger people, who are immunised, can get Pfizer or Moderna.  Stocks are sufficient.  We will revisit our decision in four weeks.”

Around 6,000 younger people will now get a different vaccine than originally planned. Most of these are interns in care homes.

Health minister Vandenbroucke wasn’t entirely satisfied with the EMA’s decision not to make a thorough analysis of the use of AstraZeneca by age group and raised this among his European colleagues: “I want to know, if you have a choice, how will you divide it up.  The EMA still has work to do. What about jab 2? Can we use a different vaccine?  The EMA must clarify these issues!”

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