Health officials in Belgium have shrunk the priority groups eligible for a flu shot and cancelled a wider population campaign as demand for the vaccine exceeds supply.
The AFMPS federal medicines agency said that health ministers had been forced to revise their initial vaccination campaign strategy in order to “protect” at-risk groups’ access to priority vaccination.
The changes namely affect 50 to 65 year-olds who, unless they suffer from a chronic illness or fit other criteria, no longer have guaranteed access to a shot during this flu season.
Pharmacists had previously reported an influx of patients seeking to obtain a flu shot following reports that anyone over 50 could get a dose without a prescription.
The increased pressure on Belgium’s 2.9 million vaccine doses comes from a “strong increase in demand” from targetted priority groups in comparison to previous years, the AFMPS found after inquiring with pharmacies around the country.
The vaccines will, therefore, be used initially only on the following groups: residents in care institutions, people aged 65 or over, all pregnant women, children over 6 years old on long-term aspirin therapy or with a chronic illness.
Health workers and anyone living in the same household as any person belonging to the previous group will also be included in the first priority round of vaccinations.
Only after those groups are vaccinated will the agency examine the possibilities of inoculating 50 to 65 year-olds who do not suffer from a chronic illness or share a household with a member of the priority target groups.
“Until that stage, no vaccines shall be provided to [the 50 to 65] age group,” the AFMPS wrote.
A general population vaccination campaign, which under the previous plan was slated to begin on 15 November after the vaccination of priority groups was completed, has been cancelled.
The agency said that current social distancing measures and the generalisation among the population of hygiene norms caused by the pandemic will “inevitably reduce the propagation of the seasonal flu.”
“Furthermore, authorities stress that people in good health are less likely to become ill because of the flu,” the agency wrote.