Brussels vaccination uptake 'in free fall' since Belgium lifts measures

Brussels vaccination uptake 'in free fall' since Belgium lifts measures
Credit: Belga

Since Belgium moved into 'code yellow' on the coronavirus barometer and lifted most measures, Brussels has seen the population's willingness to be vaccinated against take a nosedive.

While vaccination centres in the Capital Region remain open, the number of people getting a first shot (or a booster dose) has dropped sharply since the start of the month. In total, just 74% of the adult population has been fully vaccinated but only 47% has received a booster dose, according to the latest figures by the Sciensano health institute.

"We are still making slight progress, but as in the other Regions, the number of vaccinations has gone into free fall in the last few weeks," Inge Neven of the Brussels health authorities said during a press briefing on Tuesday.

Just under 4,000 vaccination doses were administered in Brussels last week, compared to tens of thousands during peak moments last year. However, as Belgium switched to 'code yellow' in early March – and the requirement to show a valid Covid Safe Ticket (CST) to enter a bar, event or gym was lifted – the number of new vaccination appointments dropped sharply.

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"We can see clearly that the need to be vaccinated is diminishing, but vaccination still offers the best protection against hospitalisation," Neven said. "So we are certainly committed to continue offering vaccination."

Additionally, the number of doses with the Novavax vaccine – for those who are allergic to the other available vaccines – also remains very low, with only about a hundred doses administered per week.

"This was also to be expected as the motivation and the campaign around the vaccination has decreased. The fact that Novavax is a different type of vaccine has not helped that much either," Neven said.

Vaccinations by pharmacists

Since 11 March, pharmacists in Belgium are also legally allowed to administer Covid-19 vaccines, aiming to increase the country's vaccination rate, control possible new waves and promote the accessibility of the vaccination outside the centres.

In Brussels, five pharmacies in the municipalities of Anderlecht, Auderghem, Ganshoren, Molenbeek and Saint-Gilles are taking part in a pilot project, which will run for at least one month. After that, the project will be evaluated to decide whether or not to extend the initiative to other Brussels pharmacies.

"Vaccination remains an important tool in the fight against Covid-19: after three doses, the risks of hospitalisation drop significantly," Neven said. "To ensure a sustainable vaccination offer, we are integrating more and more activities in primary care, while keeping some large centres open."

Pacheco test and vaccination centre in Brussels. Credit: The Brussels Times/ Lauren Walker

Thanks to the relationship of trust many pharmacies have with their patients, "they play a key role in local vaccination initiatives and are therefore of great importance for the success of the Brussels vaccination campaign," she added.

At the same time, the Pharma-on-tour project (in which an external doctor administers vaccines in a pharmacy) continues to run in the other partner pharmacies in Brussels.

"Brussels pharmacists have been committed since the beginning of the vaccination campaign, whether it was by preparing vaccine doses for GPs or by participating in Pharma-On-Tour," Ann Herzeel, co-chair of the union of Brussels pharmacists UPB-AVB said in a press release. "Vaccination by pharmacists is an extension of that commitment and, thanks to their accessibility, they can make a difference."

Those wishing to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in a pharmacy can easily make an appointment via the Doctena platform or via Bru-Vax. The vaccinations will be registered in the federal platform Vaccinnet+ so that the vaccinated person can obtain a valid Covid certificate.

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