On Thursday evening, the Superior Health Council issued a positive advice for the vaccination of children aged 5 to 11, but the final decision by Belgium’s different health ministers will not be made until Monday.
For its final decision, the Interministerial Health Conference (IMC) will take into account the Superior Health Council’s advice as well as an opinion from the Bioethics Committee.
“Children who are infected can spread the virus in the school, the family and among vulnerable groups,” the Council’s advice stated. “If children are vaccinated, the virus will circulate less. That is also positive for children, because it helps prevent school closures and quarantines.”
Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke stressed on Flemish television that the campaign to vaccinate children requires good preparation, and could possibly run in parallel with the booster campaign for adults.
“We have to take our time with this. In any case, we should not go lightning fast with this if we decide in favour. It seems logical to me that we should focus on the adult boosters first,” he said.
“I do not rule out the possibility that both campaigns partly overlap, but that is not self-evident,” Vandenbroucke said. “Someone who has been to a vaccination centre twice already knows it there. For children, it is something completely different.”
The Council stated that priority should be given to children who come into contact with high-risk patients or children who themselves have underlying disorders.
Additionally, vaccination for children should be an “individual and voluntary decision,” the advice stated, implying that it should never be linked to a Covid Safe Ticket (CST).
No distinction between vaccinated and non-vaccinated children
Vandenbroucke emphasised that it has already been decided that the vaccine will be entirely voluntary, and that “we will never make a distinction between vaccinated and non-vaccinated children.”
He added that he realises that “more than ever, persuasion will be needed” for the children’s vaccination campaign to succeed, but added that a CST for such young children is out of the question.
At the end of last month, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the green light for Pfizer vaccines to be used in children aged 5 to 11. The benefits outweigh the possible risks, especially for children with an increased risk due to underlying diseases, EMA said in an announcement at the time.
In the meantime, France’s National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE) decided in favour of extending vaccination to all 5 11-year-olds but insisted on leaving the choice to parents, ruling out imposing a “pass sanitaire” (health pass) on children.
The French government plans to start vaccinating these young children in the coming days, if it gets approval from the country’s National Authority for Health and its Vaccine Strategy Council.