The Belgian authorities are aiming to vaccinate all people with an increased risk of monkeypox by the end of next week at the latest, announced Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke on Wednesday.
Initially, Belgium will only administer monkeypox vaccinations to high-risk contacts and people with specific profiles, of which the biggest group concerns men who have sex with men and are HIV-positive or taking PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and have contracted at least two sexually transmitted infections in the last year.
"We have asked the centres to invite the people in the target group and vaccinate them by the end of next week," said Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke during a press conference on Wednesday.
"This will probably not be entirely successful, because it is a difficult target group, but the ambition is to vaccinate as many as possible by next week," he said, adding that collaboration has been set up for the vaccination of sex workers as well.
The target group eligible for vaccination, however, is very narrowly defined in Belgium, as the authorities only have a very limited supply of vaccines. As a result, many Belgians travelled to the north of France to be vaccinated last weekend.
Currently, an estimated 300 to 400 people living in Belgium have been vaccinated since the outbreak of monkeypox. "At the start of the epidemic, we were able to buy 200 doses. Through the European Commission, we were able to get another 3,000."
Meanwhile, another 30,000 doses have been ordered from producer Bavarian Nordic, reiterated Vandenbroucke. "They will be delivered in the fourth quarter (autumn) of this year."
First woman infected in Belgium
In the meantime, a confirmed case of monkeypox was detected in a woman for the first time in Belgium on Tuesday morning, said Catry.
"While sex with alternating partners seems to be the main way of infection at the moment, it would be wrong to dismiss monkeypox as a disease that can only affect the gay community," he added. "Anyone can contract the virus; it is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact."
Since the start of the outbreak, 546 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been registered in Belgium, according to the latest figures by the Sciensano National Health Institute. As of this week, the number of new infections appears to be reaching its peak, although the coming weeks will have to show whether there is a stagnation or a decline.
Any serious consequences of infection have remained very limited in Belgium: of the 546 people infected, only 28 ended up in hospital, including three people because they could not be isolated at home. None of them required intensive care.