Belgium must move towards compulsory vaccination against the coronavirus as soon as possible, says Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke, but the Advisory Committee on Bioethics advises against such an obligation.
More than nine in ten vaccinated people aged 65 and over have already received a booster dose, but a number of people in Belgium have not been vaccinated at all.
“We are once again in danger of burdening and overburdening our healthcare system. There is only one answer to that: vaccinating as many people as possible,” Beke said on Wednesday. “If you ask me, mandatory vaccination definitely has to be discussed. Fines could be issued to enforce it.”
Last month, the president of the Flemish socialist Vooruit party Conner Rousseau also spoke out in favour of an obligation, but the Federal Government has yet to reach an agreement on the issue.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has repeatedly said that he is not in favour of an obligation, while Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke supports the idea but underlined a lot of practical issues.
Therefore, Vandenbroucke consulted the Advisory Committee on Bioethics a few weeks ago; late on Tuesday evening, it issued advice against such an obligation.
While the Committee supports compulsory vaccination as an ethical principle, making it mandatory should not be done when there is as much uncertainty as there is now, said Zeger Debyser, co-chairman of the Committee and professor of virology at the KU Leuven.
“What we have here is an ethical dilemma. You have to choose between people’s individual freedom and solidarity,” he explained on Flemish radio on Wednesday morning. “The Ethical Committee says that in principle, in such circumstances, solidarity can prevail over individual freedom. But it has to be proportional.”
A need for transparency
“The fact that the vaccination rate in Flanders is very high plays a role in this,” Debyser said, adding that the Committee has set out six conditions that must be met in order for such a vaccination requirement to be introduced.
One of these is a “mature vaccination schedule,” but there are still too many uncertainties attached to this, according to the Committee. “Those uncertainties have to be cleared up before you can make anything compulsory,” he said.
Another important prerequisite is transparency: “if the government believes that compulsory vaccination is justified, it must do so transparently and not in a covert way,” Debyser stated, referring to the Covid Safe Ticket (CST), which should “under no circumstances” be used as a means of enforcing vaccination in a disguised manner.
Earlier this month, it was assumed that the possibility of making vaccination mandatory would be on the table of today’s Consultative Committee, along with changes to the CST system. However, as the Omicron variant is spreading through Belgium rapidly, the discussions are expected to focus on stricter rules to reduce contacts during the end-of-year festivities.
The Consultative Committee will start meeting at 2:00 PM this afternoon and will hold a press conference to announce its latest decisions afterwards. An overview of what is expected to be discussed can be found here.