'Moral duty': vaccination should be mandatory for healthcare staff, says expert

'Moral duty': vaccination should be mandatory for healthcare staff, says expert
Credit: Belga

To reach the highest possible vaccination rate among the population in Belgium, getting a jab should be compulsory for healthcare staff and children aged 12 to 15 should be vaccinated, according to professor of immuno-virology Guido Vanham (University of Antwerp).

Now that more infectious coronavirus variants are on the rise, including in Belgium, Vanham pleads for as many people as possible to be vaccinated, with a focus on healthcare personnel.

"It is a moral obligation: unvaccinated healthcare staff can transmit the virus to very vulnerable people, while safe vaccines that also protect against the delta variant are available," Vanham said on local Antwerp radio.

The fact that many people working in healthcare do not want to be vaccinated, especially in the Francophone parts of Belgium, is "difficult to understand," according to him.

"Care workers are in contact with very vulnerable people. Some of those cannot be vaccinated and others hardly react at all to the vaccine, so they make few antibodies," Vanham added.

Additionally, children between 12 and 15 years old should also be vaccinated, as they are "at the same risk as young adults."

"We need to make sure there is herd immunity so we do not have to close schools again soon," he said, adding that he is pleased that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the green light to vaccinate that age group.

"You have to take stock, and the risks of not vaccinating are greater than those of vaccinating," said Vanham.

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Belgium is currently only vaccinating 12 to 15-years-olds with underlying conditions, but on Tuesday morning, the experts of the Superior Health Council gave the green light to also vaccinate those without an underlying condition.

However, the experts pointed out that vaccination would bring little individual benefit to the 12-15-year-olds, but would mainly help in the context of herd immunity, according to a report seen by De Tijd.

The country's different health ministers will discuss the issue at the next meeting of the Interministerial Health Conference, which is expected to give the final green light.

In the meantime, German experts of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Immunologie (DGfI) professional association, stated that achieving herd immunity will likely not be possible if children and adolescents are not vaccinated.

"Normally, it is assumed that herd immunity occurs when 60% to 70% of the population is protected against the disease, but then one assumes that it cannot multiply in these people," said DGfI Vice-President Reinhold Förster on Tuesday.

For the coronavirus, this is not the case, as people can pass on the virus even if they are not sick themselves, or if they have been vaccinated and are symptom-free.

The Delta variant, which was first detected in India, makes the situation even more difficult, as "it is much more infectious and affects adolescents and children very badly," Förster added.

According to the German Robert Koch Institute, at least 85% of the population between 12 and 59 years old, and 90% of people over 60 have to be fully vaccinated to be safe from the variant.

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