Belgium will move ahead with vaccinating children aged between six and 11 as soon as the European Medicines Agency approves the measure, according to Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke.
So far, children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated in Belgium in spite of their many contacts, mainly through schools. This can lead to infections spreading rapidly. For Vandenbroucke, as well as virologist Steven Van Gucht, the general vaccination of children would deal with this problem.
"I am concerned. We expected this fourth wave but we underestimated the contagiousness of the virus; we have to slow down the circulation of the virus. Fortunately, we have the vaccine," Vandenbroucke told RTBF.
"We are waiting for the green light from the European Agency. If there is a positive opinion, we must vaccinate children," he added.
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The European Medicines Agency (EMA) started evaluating an application to extend the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to children aged five and over on 18 October, after results from clinical trials showed the vaccine is 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic forms of Covid-19 for children in this age group.
Earlier this week, the agency announced it has also started evaluating an application to extend the use of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, Spikevax, which is currently authorised for children aged 12 and older, to children aged six to 11.
Once a vaccine is approved by the EMA, it will be possible for the EU Member States to vaccinate younger children.
"In our case, the Superior Health Council will then look at the results of the study and issue an opinion based on them. Then, based on that advice, the policymakers will see what will happen in Belgium," Gudrun Briat, spokesperson for Belgium’s Vaccination Taskforce, told The Brussels Times.
Vandenbroucke said he hoped the vaccination of under 12s can start in January 2022. It has already been confirmed that parents of underage children with a coronavirus vaccination appointment that takes place during working hours can take paid leave to accompany them.
Meanwhile, Vandenbroucke stressed that, due to the unexpected strength of the fourth wave, the culture of wearing a face mask in class should be restored and that it should be mandatory in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades of primary schools.
In Dutch-speaking schools, masks are mandatory in the fifth and sixth grades, while in French-speaking schools, they are only mandatory for secondary school pupils.
In Belgium, 75% of those aged between 12 and 17, almost 600,000 people, have already received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while 72% is fully vaccinated.