Belgium will start vaccinating ‘on same day’ as all EU members
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Belgium will start vaccinating ‘on same day’ as all EU members

Credit: Belga

Belgium will start vaccinating its population against the coronavirus on the same day as the other Member States of the European Union.

Speaking on Wednesday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that all EU members will be able to start vaccinating “on the same day,” after Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine gets the official green light.

“Finally, within a week, the first vaccine will be authorised, vaccinations can begin. It is a huge task,” she said.

“So let’s start these vaccinations as soon as possible, all 27 of us together, with a start on the same day,” von der Leyen added during a plenary session – largely by videoconference – of MEPs.

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Under pressure from Germany, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on Tuesday that it would decide on the approval of the Pfizer vaccine on 21 December – a week earlier than initially planned.

After examining EMA’s opinion and consulting the member states – a process that will likely take a few days -, the European Commission will be able to issue its conditional marketing authorisation in the EU around Christmas.

In total, the EU bought more doses than needed for everyone in Europe via contracts with different companies, in order to create “a diversified portfolio” of vaccines in development, according to von der Leyen.

“In the same way that we went through this pandemic in unity, let us undertake the eradication of this horrible virus, together and united,” she urged.

On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron already indicated that the vaccination campaign in France would be launched on the same day in all EU countries, but that there was no fixed date yet.

Belgium could start vaccination campaign this year

A small number of doses could already be available in Belgium this year, if the EMA approves Pfizer’s vaccines before Christmas, according to Dirk Ramaekers, head of the vaccination strategy task force.

“Those doses will then be for a few residential care centres. We will not let that opportunity pass us by,” he told VRT. “That first administration will also teach us a lot. We will then be able to vaccinate on a larger scale in January.”

The process will go through the hospitals, which will serve as a passage to the residential care centres.

“Some 40 hospitals have been identified as hubs in recent weeks,” Ramaekers said. “This week we are testing the residential care centres and the hospitals to have the whole procedure ready by January.”

If everything goes according to plan, 300,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be available to Belgium in January.

In that first phase, these will be for the people in residential care centres and healthcare workers. According to Ramaekers’ estimate, the first phase can be completed in February. From March, the second group would be vaccinated: people over 65 years old, and the at-risk groups.

“However, we cannot give an exact timing, because we do not know when which vaccine will be available and in what quantities,” he added.

Update: Pfizer has reportedly problems in manufacturing the vaccine at its facility in Belgium which will affect the rollout of the vaccination programmes in the member states. At today’s press conference (16 December), a Commission spokesperson said that it was not yet known how many doses the member states would receive after the approval of the vaccine.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times