Belgium may start offering an extra dose of the Covid-19 vaccine before the summer to residents of care homes and over-80s, with the decision to be made on an individual basis and after consultations with their GP.
People with a weakened immune system have been able to get the fourth dose since the start of February, but no decision has been made about a possible second booster for the general population before the summer.
"The Superior Health Council has recommended that a fourth dose should not be given systematically to people aged 80 and over before the summer," Sabine Stordeur of Belgium's Vaccination Taskforce explained on Walloon radio on Thursday.
"Instead, it should be approached on an individual basis, specifically depending on the risk factor of certain elderly people or the importance of certain underlying diseases," she added.
Those people, who are at an increased risk of contracting severe Covid-19, could then get the fourth dose before the summer if they want one, after discussing it with their GP.
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If Belgium's health ministers confirm this strategy during the Interministerial Conference (IMC) on public health next week, the second booster vaccination campaign could ideally start around mid-May, according to Stordeur.
In France, people aged 60 and over are eligible to receive such a fourth dose, and the United Kingdom is administering the second booster shot to over-75s, Belgium will mainly target those over 80 years old.
"Each country has adopted an age requirement according to its own epidemiological situation," said Stordeur. "In Belgium, the Sciensano data show that the majority of hospital admissions are for people well over 75 years old and with an average of two underlying diseases, so there was no need for us to consider administering a fourth dose to a younger group."
Still, she underlined that it is always possible to revise the Taskforce's recommendations based on potential new data or information. "This could happen even before the summer."
The Interministerial Health Conference will meet on Wednesday 20 April and is expected to formalise the schedule for the second booster campaign this year.