From 1 January 2022, health care workers will have three months to get fully vaccinated before vaccination becomes mandatory for staff on 1 April.
On Monday evening, the Federal Government came to an agreement on the introduction of mandatory vaccination programmes for health care workers, almost three months after Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced the measure for all those working in the healthcare sector.
A transitional phase will apply between 1 January and 31 March, during which healthcare workers will have to prove that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19 or have undergone a PCR test within 72 hours.
From 1 April when the full obligation comes into force for all health care staff – from nurses and doctors to pharmacists and physiotherapists – those who are not vaccinated will be dismissed.
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Unvaccinated staff will reportedly benefit from regular unemployment with the maintenance of seniority and rights. However, the legislative work around this is still being prepared, Gudrun Briat, the spokesperson for the Vaccination Task Force, said.
"They are now preparing the legislative work, which means that it will only be applicable from [April] because it still has to be passed into law and then it has to be approved by Parliament, which is why the start date has been put at a later time," she told The Brussels Times.
The vaccination coverage rates for health care workers follow the trend among the general population of fewer people being vaccinated in the capital region. In Flanders, around 95% of staff is vaccinated, while in Brussels this is just 73%, according to the latest data from the Sciensano Health Insititute.
More needed to fight delta variant
Zorgnet-Icuro, the umbrella organisation representing all Flemish care institutions, welcomed this decision but stressed that this measure doesn't go far enough as it does not cover all professions that deal with the care sector.
"What is currently on the table only applies to people who fall under the so-called Health care professions Royal Decree 78. These are people who are legally able to provide care and if they don't get vaccinated they can lose this right," Lieve Dhaene, communication consultant and the organisation's spokesperson, told The Brussels Times.
She explained that this excludes such examples as hairdressers who work in residential care centres, but "who also have close contact with the residents." Similarly, logistics and cleaning staff come in contact with patients but fall outside the rule.
"We think that is a pity that these people will not be caught by the obligation for the time being," she said. The organisation even went so far as to argue that the entire population should be required to be vaccinated.
"In the future, we will have to discuss this on a population-wide basis because we are seeing that the delta variant is much more persistent than anyone would have thought a few weeks or months ago," Dhaene said.
Briat explained that mandatory vaccination for the whole population is currently being discussed by the Federal Government and that a decision is on its way.