Belgium considers administering booster doses after only five months

Belgium considers administering booster doses after only five months
Credit: Belga

Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke is in favour of speeding up the booster doses of the coronavirus vaccine if feasible and recommended, he stated on Tuesday.

Vandenbroucke requested advice from the Superior Health Council, which is now looking into whether it would be possible and useful to shorten the interval between the initial vaccinations and the booster dose.

“A decision could be made as early as next Monday,” he stated in the Chamber Commission for Public Health on Tuesday.

As it stands, those who were initially vaccinated with Moderna or Pfizer (like the majority of the population in Belgium) will only receive a booster shot after six months. But Vandenbroucke would prefer shortening this interval to five months, as all indications show that a booster shot will provide better protection against the Omicron variant.

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“Whether there is a medical advantage in speeding up the process is now up to medical experts to decide,” said Vandenbroucke. There would be a short-term benefit, but it is not clear if it would outweigh a possible long-term disadvantage.

For the practical part, consultation with the Regions is necessary, because they are in charge of organising the vaccination campaigns on their territory.

“There is some hesitation there,” Vandenbroucke said, adding that the campaign is going according to schedule. “But if you accelerate, that might create more problems.”

Rising number of Omicron infections

In the meantime, at least 73 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in Belgium, according to data published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Tuesday afternoon, compared to just 11 last week.

The ECDC has already recorded a total of 2,127 Omicron cases in the EU/EEA: with infections in Norway (at least 1,176), Denmark (268), France (130) and Germany (101).

In reality, the number of infections is probably higher, because it takes a while before a variant can be identified. However, all cases in the EU/EEA on severity were either asymptomatic or mild, according to the ECDC.

Outside of Europe, 6,699 cases have been confirmed so far, and the UK health authorities also know of one death of a patient infected with the Omicron variant.

The new variant has raised a lot of concerns across the world, as it has shown itself to be more infectious than previous strains. Research into the characteristics of the variant is still ongoing, but it is suspected that Omicron is more likely to cause reinfection in people who have already been ill or who have been vaccinated.

Last Friday, virologist Steven Van Gucht stressed that although Belgium seems to have passed the peak of the fourth wave, “Omicron adds uncertainty to this pandemic, and we should certainly not relax the measures too quickly.”

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