There is "a very high chance" that Belgium will organise another large-scale Covid-19 vaccination campaign after the summer, according to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.
With fewer than 900 Covid-19 patients in hospital and just 76 in need of intensive care, we can be "relatively confident" that Belgium will have a restriction-free summer, Vandenbroucke said on Flemish television on Thursday evening.
"But the virus is not gone. It would be strange if there were no more (small) waves, but we do not know what that would mean," he stressed. "It could be that a new wave will not have serious consequences, but it could also be that we have to deal with a variant that makes people sicker and is very infectious."
That is why the health authorities have prepared different scenarios, Vandenbroucke explained. As part of those scenarios, the Interministerial Conference (IMC) on Health decided in early May to offer a fourth dose – also called a second booster – to people from 80 years old.
No decision yet
"Those invitations are being sent out now, but nothing has been decided yet for the rest of the population," he said. "We are thinking about purchasing new vaccines and there is a very high chance that we will do another large-scale vaccination campaign after the summer."
In April, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) concluded that while no safety concerns about second booster doses emerged from its studies, it was still "too early" to consider administering a fourth dose to the general population now. Still, it added that "re-vaccination campaigns" could possibly start in autumn.
Referring to a recent study by the Sciensano national health institute on the vaccines' long-term efficacy, Vandenbroucke stressed that while the vaccines protect very well against severe illness and hospitalisation (and for a long time), their protection against infection or mild symptoms wears off "fairly quickly."
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The study showed that those who received the first two doses – the so-called basic vaccination – were initially 81% more protected against symptomatic infection than unvaccinated people. After three to five months, however, this percentage dropped to 56%. After a booster dose, it climbed back to 84%.
For the Omicron variant, initial protection against symptomatic infection after the first two shots was just 37%. This was halved after three to five months. However, researchers said that these results were "not surprising," as the vaccine was designed for the first variant of the virus. "Still, the booster does increase protection again, especially against hospitalisation. Meaning it works very well."