An open letter urging Belgium to prioritise 16 - 25-year-olds for coronavirus vaccinations has prompted polarising reactions across the county as the merits of the proposal come up for public debate.
The letter - written by a group of about 40 adults from various sectors in Flanders - has been making headlines across the country with the call to focus on Belgium's youth. “We want to give up our place to the young people,” Heidi De Pauw, CEO of Child Focus, and Sara Vercauteren, managing director of PR agency Bepublic, wrote.
In the less than 24h since the letter was published, politicians, psychologists and Belgium's youth have made their opinions clear.
Here's a recap:
Experts and Vaccination Taskforce: "Don't give false hope"
While the task force understands the call, it cannot simply change the vaccination order that has been agreed on, according to former general practice professor and member of the task force Jan De Maeseneer.
"Changing the schedule to give priority to young people inevitably has consequences for other groups," he told VRT NWS. "However, it is very nice that an older generation shows solidarity with the younger ones.'
"In the task force, we will certainly look at that signal. Just as we will also take into account signals from other groups in society, such as high-risk patients," said De Maeseneer.
According to virologist Marc Van Ranst, it is up to politicians to make that decision, but he warned that the authorities should not give young people false hope.
"If you tell young people that it will be their turn first, they might think that they can do anything. However, the face mask obligation and the rules about maintaining a social distance will still apply, of course."
"We can only lift them once everyone has been vaccinated and group immunity has been achieved," he said. "So young people will still be restricted in their freedom, even if they are among the first to be vaccinated."
On Twitter, he stated that from the moment that people over 65, (informal) healthcare workers, and people with underlying diseases are vaccinated, and there are very little coronavirus mortality and hospitalisations left, "we must in any case quickly phase out the strict measures." Biostatistician Geert Molenberghs warned that it is currently not yet clear if the vaccines also prevent people from transmitting the coronavirus. "It could well be that someone who has been vaccinated still infects people, without them noticing anything about the virus," he told VTM News. "Before we adjust the vaccination strategy, it is important that we have a clear view of that."
Vanaf het moment dat 65-plussers, (mantel)zorgverstrekkers, en mensen met onderliggende aandoeningen gevaccineerd zullen zijn, en er dus nog heel weinig COVID-sterfte en hospitalisatie overblijft, moeten we sowieso de strenge maatregelen snel afbouwen.— Marc Van Ranst (@vanranstmarc) February 1, 2021
Psychologists: "There's no health without mental health"While the open letter is a nice signal of intergenerational solidarity, it is important not to lose sight of reality, according to motivational psychologist Maarten Vansteenkiste. "This is a collective story that should lead us to a collective freedom and real freedom only comes with collective freedom," he told local media. "When you start advocating for a particular group, you draw the card of individual freedom. Then it possibly becomes a bidding war between different groups," Vansteenkiste said. "What we want to do is create space for young people in the relaxations, as we did last week with the after-school activities for children over 12."
- 'We will give up our place': Belgians ask to prioritise young people for vaccines
- Easing measures for young people should not depend on vaccination, minister says