Belgium's vaccination plans criticised for regional bias 

Belgium's vaccination plans criticised for regional bias 
Pfizer's Puurs site in Belgium. Credit: Belga

Keeping the balance between Belgium's different regions will play an important part in the country's vaccination strategy, and is already causing issues after conflicting stories of a Flemish focus come out in local media.

What is confirmed is that on Monday, Belgium's vaccinations will start in the first three residential care centres across the country, one in Flanders, one in Wallonia and one in the Brussels-Capital Region.

From that point, however, things have become more complicated, with conflicting reports of what will happen next from local media and the people in charge.

According to reports in some Belgian media on Tuesday four more residential care centres - all in the Flemish region - were set to receive the vaccine the day after the first vaccinations had taken place, but will now have to wait "in order to keep the political peace" following complaints of "unfairness" from the other regions.

According to the office of Coronavirus Commissioner Pedro Facon, however, no such decision had been made after Monday's first round.

"All federated entities will discuss this during Belgium's Inter-Ministerial Conference so that the balances in our country can be respected," Caroline Leys, spokesperson for Coronavirus Commissioner Pedro Facon told The Brussels Times.

While the taskforce did look into whether those centres would be ready to receive the vaccination so soon,  "no director received official confirmation," Leys explained. This sort of decision will only be decided during the Inter-Ministerial Conference on Public Health, set to take place later this week, she added.

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The idea that Belgium's fractured government structure would block the vaccines for people who needed them, however, has already strong criticism from Jan Walraet, Regional Corona Coordinator for the Druivenstreek.

"How do you explain this to the residents of these four residential care centres?" he told Het Laatste Nieuws. "The fact that, in this health crisis, vaccinations are being withheld in order to maintain political peace is not acceptable to me."

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Despite the relatively early vaccination planned for next week, Belgium's big push will not start before January, Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke emphasised on Tuesday.

"This will happen in those residential care centres in which there have been no infections during the last period," he said on Flemish radio, adding that the centres have to have been Covid-free for at least two weeks.

Maïthé Chini & Jules Johnston

The Brussels Times

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