Belgium needs plan for rapid Covid-19 vaccine distribution, says expert
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Belgium needs plan for rapid Covid-19 vaccine distribution, says expert

Credit: Belga

Belgium should start working on a script for the fast and effective distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine once it is ready, vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme said in a reaction to the news about Pfizer’s 90% effective vaccine.

While Van Damme called Pfizer’s announcement on Monday “almost unbelievable” and “scientifically speaking, definitely a reason to be enthusiastic” on Flemish radio on Tuesday morning, he also stated that “major steps still need to be taken in terms of regulations.”

According to him, Belgium will have to make use of the coming weeks and months to work out a script and work on the logistics of distributing the vaccine.

“How are we going to organise the distribution, what about the cold chain for storage and transport, who is going to administer the vaccines: these are just a few of the questions we have to answer,” he said.

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“We have not dared to hope for this vaccine so soon. And with an efficacy of 90%, while the bar of institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) was set at 50%,” he said. “If we focus on maximum preparation, it will be okay. But we must not rest on our laurels. We want to be ready when the vaccine arrives.”

The biggest challenge will be the temperature at which Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept, between -70 and -80°C. “Everyone is thinking hard about the cold chain now, to transport and store vaccines,” Van Damme said, adding that this means that the vaccines will have to be transported in a kind of case with dry ice in, or compressed CO2, among other things.

“This is going to be something other than dropping off a Bol.com package somewhere,” Roel Gevaers, Professor of Transport Economics at the University of Antwerp, told Het Nieuwsblad.

“This will be a real challenge. In the US, they are already working on it. The supply of dry ice will be shrinking in the coming months. That is why we, too, must take action now,” he added.

However, “we should be careful with timings and estimations by when we will be able to vaccinate all Belgians,” Van Damme said, as the authorities still need to approve the vaccine.

By the end of the month, US pharmaceutical company Pfizer wants to hand over the data from the study of their vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which can use an emergency procedure to request permission for rapid production of the vaccine in the US.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times