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First 5,000 Belgians could already be vaccinated this year

Credit: Belga

Belgium could already be able to vaccinate 5,000 people against the coronavirus before the end of the year, according to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.

Pfizer promised Belgium a so-called “symbolic shipment” of its vaccine before the end of this year, Vandenbroucke told the Parliamentary Health Committee on Wednesday.

“According to Pfizer’s information, this would mean that the Member States that had subscribed would receive 10,000 doses by the end of December,” he added.

Since two doses of the vaccine are needed, 5,000 people could already be vaccinated before 2021.

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“That would be a small number of residential care centres where the vaccinations can be administered as the first opening of the campaign,” Vandenbroucke said, stressing that it would not be a large group.

“Additionally, I say that on the condition that Pfizer’s promise can also be kept, of course,” he said, stressing that this “symbolic shipment” will do little to change Belgium’s overall vaccination strategy.

“The essence of our strategy is that in January we will roll out vaccination for the top priority target group,” he said. “These are people staying in residential care centres, in other collective care institutions, as well as staff and volunteers working there. That is already a very large group.”

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

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

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.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times