Belgium’s risky strategy to vaccinate its population

The hypothesis has been on everyone’s lips for a few weeks: will there be a vaccine against Covid-19 in spring 2021, including in Belgium? Hope has grown again since the announcement on Monday of the American firm Moderna, which assured after the interim analysis of its phase 3 trial that its vaccine against Covid-19 was 94.5% effective. This news closely follows that of Pfizer and BioNTech laboratories, which announced, last week, the imminent arrival of a 90% effective vaccine.

Also this Monday, the European Commission announced for its part the signing of a fifth advance purchase contract, this time with the CureVac laboratory, which is in addition to the contracts already concluded with Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), and Sanofi-GSK. Belgium, which takes part in the European purchasing procedure, can legitimately hope to have access to one or more vaccines by the spring… as long as they go through all the validation procedures.

See good timing

The timing was therefore perfect to initiate a vaccination strategy in Belgium, at least on paper. This has been done since Monday at the end of an interministerial public health conference bringing together both federal and regional health ministers. The objective is clear: it will involve vaccinating 70% of the population, on a voluntary basis and counting on the fact that the vaccine will be free. Since the vaccine can be in the form of “multi-dose vials to be administered on the same day”, the program calls for citizens to be vaccinated “in groups as much as possible.”

On the security side, Sciensano and the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP) will be responsible for a monitoring plan, with the support of the Flemish Vaccinnet network, extended for the occasion to all federated entities. Finally, a task force, made up of scientists and representatives of the authorities, crisis managers and representatives of professional organizations, among others, will help coordinate the entire program (co-funded by the federal government and the federated entities).

Communication, a crucial issue

But the operational is not everything: there is a strong fear, at European level, that a failing membership of large sections of the population will undermine vaccination strategies – which already require heavy planning. Message received five out of five, since we will find, within the task force chaired by Professor Dirk Ramaekers, medical director of Jessa hospital in Hasselt, a cell in charge of “rationalization and coordination of communication scientific and public “. Chaired by Professor Yvon Englert, former rector of ULB, this unit will have the heavy task of ensuring the proper conduct of a “societal debate” making it possible, on the basis of scientific advice, to identify the priority groups in the vaccination process.

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