The uncertainty about offering a booster vaccine to teenagers in Belgium is leading to "booster tourism," which sees a number of young people crossing country borders to get vaccinated in Germany.
Thomas (16) lives in Hasselt in the Limburg province, but went to a vaccination centre just across the border in Aachen to get his booster dose, as Germany already approved the dose for teenagers while Belgium has not.
"I went in, handed over my identity card and got my shot. I then got a paper that said everything was alright, with a QR code on it," he explained on Flemish radio on Thursday. "You do not have to pay anything for it, you just have to drive to Germany."
While Thomas said he did not have any skiing plans during the Carnival break at the end of February, many other teenagers in Belgium do go to another country to get their booster to ensure they will be able to go to popular winter sports destinations.
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They do this because countries like Italy and Austria have tightened their rules and stated that a person’s last vaccine dose cannot be older than six months. However, many teenagers in Belgium were vaccinated during the summer, meaning that their certificates will no longer be valid.
People who are vaccinated abroad - with a vaccine approved by Belgium - can pass along proof of their vaccination to their general practitioner, who can then register it in the system to make sure the shot is valid for a Covid Safe Ticket (CST).
The Aachen vaccination centre confirmed to VRT that it sees several Belgians coming to them for a booster dose. However, the number of Belgians (and Dutch people) crossing the border for a booster was reportedly a lot higher during the Christmas holidays.
While it is legally allowed to get vaccinated in another country, the German authorities said that it is "not the intention" that Belgians travel all the way to Aachen for a shot. Still, as long as the centre is not overrun, Belgians and Dutch from the border region are welcome, they said.
Green light for booster this weekend?
In Flanders, Health Minister Wouter Beke has repeatedly criticised the lack of advice from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that is delaying Belgium's decision and has proposed to work with an 'informed consent' procedure for teenagers who want a booster in the meantime.
He regrets that the decision in Belgium is taking so long, and stated that he "had warned the experts about this scenario" where people would cross the borders. "I do not think it is a good thing, but I understand those young people. Be patient for a little longer. I hope for positive advice, which should be given by this weekend," Beke said on Flemish radio on Thursday afternoon.
On Friday or Saturday, the Belgian health ministers will meet to consider whether they can still give under-18s the booster shot, after they received the additional legal advice about the 'informed consent' procedure they requested from the Patients’ Rights Committee.
If the green light is finally given for the booster shot for young people, Beke expects things to move quickly and the eligible young people to receive their booster before the carnival break. "The vaccination centres are ready for it."
So far, Germany, France, Austria, Italy, the US and Israel have already decided to administer boosters to this age group.