Fourth shot ‘needed for risk groups,’ Superior Health Council advises

Fourth shot ‘needed for risk groups,’ Superior Health Council advises
Credit: Belga

Belgium’s Superior Health Council has advised that the fourth dose of a coronavirus vaccine should be given to people with a weakened immune system.

In an advisory report, the council recommended the fourth shot for risk groups, including those with congenital immune disorders, people who receive chronic kidney dialysis, certain HIV patients, people with blood cancer or other malignant tumours or patients who have undergone a stem cell or organ transplant, according to Belga news agency.

“Yesterday evening, the Superior Health Council gave positive advice to the Vaccination Task Force regarding giving this dose to people in risk groups who have already received their third shot,” Gudrun Briat, spokesperson for the Vaccination Task Force, told The Brussels Times.

She explained that the third dose, which was given to risk groups in September, is still considered part of the basic vaccination, as they need three doses of the coronavirus vaccine to have the same level of protection as the general population receives after just two doses, “because their immune systems do not function as well.”

“So actually, this decision means they will be on schedule with the general population, who are now also getting a booster,” she added.

Remarkably, the advice of the Superior Health Council states that the fourth dose is recommended for people with a weakened immune system from the age of 12, even though the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not yet made a decision about offering teenagers a coronavirus booster dose.

“The Superior Health Council argued in its advice that this group is so vulnerable that it cannot really wait for this decision to be made,” Briat explained.

Official decision expected soon

Between 300,000 and 400,000 in Belgium who have reduced antibody production after their basic Covid-19 vaccination would be eligible for another dose. So far, around 90% of these people have received the third shot.

Almost two weeks ago, Flemish Health Minister Wouter Beke said he had asked the High Health Council for an opinion on the fourth injection for people with immune disorders, but until now, no advice had been made public.

Briat explained that a formal decision regarding the administering of a fourth dose must now be taken at an Interministerial Conference (IMC) on Public Health, but it is not yet clear exactly when this will take place.

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However, if the go-ahead is given, the additional round of vaccinations is expected to start soon, she added. “Everything is ready. It can be started immediately,” said Briat.

In Flanders, which is currently the fastest vaccinator in Europe, more than four million people have received their booster shot, equating to almost 75% of adults and 61% of the total population.

As of Wednesday, some 6.11 million people have received a booster dose of a coronavirus vaccine in Belgium, representing 66% of over-18s and 53% of the entire population.

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