AstraZeneca for over-55s: what does it mean for Belgium's vaccination strategy?

AstraZeneca for over-55s: what does it mean for Belgium's vaccination strategy?
Credit: Belga/J. Namur

The latest recommendation by Belgian health authorities to also use the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people over 55 years old will significantly accelerate the country's vaccination strategy.

Even though the government still has to formally adopt the advice given by the Superior Health Council on Tuesday afternoon, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told VTM News that it is "crucial" for an adjustment of the strategy.

In addition to using AstraZeneca for over-55s, the Council also decided in favour of increasing the time between the first and second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, from 21 to 35 days.

Steven Callens, professor of infectious diseases (UGent), said that the advice means that Belgium's vaccination strategy can be accelerated now. "This will certainly have an impact and we will be able to roll out the vaccines more quickly, if they are available," he told Het Laatste Nieuws.

The Vaccination Task Force will now have to find out how much faster exactly, according to Callens.

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"For the Pfizer vaccine, we will see how much time can be gained by extending the interval between the two doses to 35 days," he added. "That is what the people who make the models are working on."

The advice means that the older groups - who also run the most risk of ending up in hospital - can be vaccinated more quickly, which in turn means that measures could be relaxed more quickly, as they are primarily intended to relieve/prevent pressure on the healthcare system.

However, the advice does not automatically mean that vaccinations can be rolled out much faster right away, as it will still depend on the number of vaccines delivered.

According to figures from the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products, since its approval, only 290,400 AstraZeneca vaccines have been delivered in Belgium.

Additionally, despite the fact that not foregoing the second vaccination dose entirely could double the country's vaccination speed, the Superior Health Council stuck to the use of two doses, for all three vaccines that are currently available.

Today, Belgium's different health ministers will meet to go over the Council's advice, and the Vaccination Task Force will redesign the campaign as soon as possible.

Last Sunday, Vandenbroucke already said it would be a “game-changer” for the vaccination strategy if AstraZeneca would be allowed to be administered to the elderly.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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