The vaccination campaign in Brussels is trailing the performance in many places in Flanders. In the inner-city suburb Sint-Joost 54% of over 65s have been vaccinated. In admittedly affluent Knokke-Heist (West Flanders) the figure is 97%.
Inge Neven admits sending out letters and people getting a call from a call centre isn’t working very well: “We need to increase public awareness and to talk to people via somebody they trust”.
“There are now information stands on markets, e.g. in Sint-Joost. We go up to people and strike up a conversation. That’s how we register them for vaccination”.
The approach requires a lot of effort, but allows people to be approached in their own language and without any need for digital skills. Today in Brussels people can be registered for a vaccination appointment simply by using their ID card.
The drive has the backing of Erika Vlieghe, expert in infectious diseases: “Low vaccination numbers are bad news for these municipalities and the people themselves. More people will end up unwell.”
“But there’s more to it. You can’t cordon off municipalities or even regions. Belgium is a small country with porous borders. Vaccination is a community matter, a collective happening.”
“It’s extremely important that in all municipalities as many people as possible are reached, including those people you don’t normally reach”
Vaccination is more than a personal decision.
Prof Vlieghe: “This isn’t only about you as an individual – will I get the jab or not? It’s about whether we want to give the virus the chance to circulate in Belgium. If there are many spots where the virus can thrive, you are providing an excellent breeding ground for new variants.”
New variants pose fresh risks for people who did get the jab, because vaccines may be less affective.