Nearly all Flemish residents will be able to receive their booster vaccination dose against the coronavirus by the end of January now that the interval after a Pfizer or Moderna shot has been shortened to just four months, announced Flemish Health Minister Wouter Beke.
After Belgium’s health ministers decided to speed up the booster campaign, Flanders will be ready to administer a record number of vaccines in December and January.
“In the coming weeks, two million Flemish residents will be invited,” Beke said during a press conference on Thursday, adding that up to 800,000 booster doses are planned each week.
By speeding up the campaign,an additional 2.5 million people in Flanders can be vaccinated as early as January. This will be done in the 84 existing vaccination centres in the region.
In case the centres do not have sufficient capacity ‘tents and containers can be used,’ the Agency for Care and Health stated.
It is not possible to have booster shots administered by general practitioners, said Beke. “We expect a lot of infections with the Omicron variant in the coming period, and we must make sure that they are ready to deal with that.”
There are also logistical complications for GPs to administer the booster doses. Pfizer’s vaccines, for example, must be kept in task-specific freezers.
“Individual syringes, like for the flu shot, are not yet available, so we are forced to go to the large vaccination centres again,” Beke added.
The overall organisation, infrastructure, and staff required to handle the rollout will be assessed by Minister Beke, the Agency and the local authorities on a centre-by-centre basis.
“With the threat of the Omicron variant, we need to speed up in order to protect everyone sufficiently. By shortening the interval, the vaccination centres can again invite a lot of people,” Beke said.
Extra centres in Wallonia
The booster campaign will also be ramped up in Wallonia, where the network of vaccination centres will be expanded, announced Walloon Health Minister Christie Morreale.
From the beginning of January, the maximum capacity will be increased to over 210,000 vaccinations per week. To this end, three extra vaccination centres and six mobile antennas will be opened, in addition to the 32 centres and 17 antennas already planned.
One centre will open in the north of Charleroi, two centres will open in Aubange (Salle du Clémarais) and Virton (former François garage), and six Vacci-buses will be deployed between 3 January and 31 March.
The vaccination centres in Huy, Mons, Tournai, Hannut, Pepinster and Bierset will continue to vaccinate for extended hours until the end of February. All other centres will operate 11 hours a day until then, and will also have their opening dates extended to be accessible to the population until 31 March.
“In view of the health situation and with the arrival of the Omicron variant, I strongly encourage all those who are in a position to do so to get the third dose before the holidays,” said Morreale.
As of Thursday 16 December, 88% of adults in Belgium (76% of the entire population) have been fully vaccinated, and 33% of adults (26% of the entire population) already received a booster dose, according to the latest figures by the Sciensano national health institute.