Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations are once again rising across Belgium, which has spurred the various health ministers to announce an autumn booster campaign, which will focus on increasing vaccination protection across the population.
It was previously reported that the government would make the second Covid-19 booster shot available to anyone over 18 from September onwards. The second booster dose has so far only been offered to people aged over 80 and residents of care homes (regardless of their age); however, the vaccination rate among these people remains low.
Following the Interministerial Conference (IMC) on Health, the various health ministers clarified who will be included in the autumn vaccination campaign based on advice from the Superior Health Council and the Vaccination Taskforce.
"Our pandemic is clearly not over and is now in its seventh wave. The next vaccination campaign is therefore also very important: vaccination remains the most important line of defence during this crisis," said Dirk Ramaekers, head of the Vaccination Taskforce.
General campaign, but with priorities
Ramaekers stressed that although this is a "complex matter," Belgium is looking to make this booster campaign as simple and quick as possible. To this end, it will avoid fragmenting the population into eligible groups. Nonetheless, certain groups will be prioritised when invitations are sent out.
"We want to get the booster to everyone as soon as possible but still have to do this on the basis of priorities," he said. Firstly, those at the highest risk of a severe outcome following a Covid-19 infection (those aged 65 to 80) and those with immunodeficiency will be offered the fourth dose after the summer.
Those who already received a fourth dose earlier this year will be able to receive an additional booster in the autumn (a minimum of three months after their previous shot).
The campaign will also focus on those working in the care sector (both in hospitals and in the first line of care, such as pharmacists and GPs). Later, this invitation will be extended to all people aged over 65.
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The campaign will then be extended to people aged 50 to 64, with everyone in this age group receiving an invitation in September. However, it is possible that a priority will be given to people who also have underlying conditions.
Ramaekers explained that there is still too little scientific evidence to give an additional booster to all people aged 18 to 50, however, an additional booster will be available on an individual basis. The regions will be in charge of this rollout and informing people about this.
For young people (aged 6 to 17) there is no scientific evidence that they should be included in the autumn campaign, he said. However, those who work as interns in hospitals can be given an additional booster.
Importance of third booster
All ministers stressed the importance of a third booster dose, as the protection of the first two vaccines has now significantly diminished.
More than 9.09 million people — 89% of Belgium’s adult population and 78% of the total population — received two doses, but just 7.16 million people have received a booster dose of the vaccine, representing 76% of over-18s and 62% of the entire population.
This is why the autumn booster campaign will also focus on reminding people to get their complete vaccination (three doses). "Scientifically, it is clear that this lowers the risk of hospitalisations and deaths," Wallonia's health minister Christie Morreale said.
As this concerns a mass vaccination campaign, Ramaekers said the vaccination centres would once again play a centralised role in this vaccine rollout.