Bad start for Flanders' vaccination centres due to new supply issues

Bad start for Flanders' vaccination centres due to new supply issues
Heysel vaccination centre. Credit: Belga

From next week, vaccination centres all over Flanders will open, but the campaign has been delayed before it even started, due to new delivery issues and uncertain supply schedules.

A vaccination centre in the municipality of Beringen in the Limburg province will likely be the first one to open on Monday, Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke announced in the Flemish Parliament this week.

"We should not create too great expectations of the start-up of the vaccination centres," Joris Moonens of the Flemish Agency for Care and Health told De Morgen. "You can only go as fast as vaccines are available," he said, adding that the supply of the Pfizer vaccine remains on track, with 70,000 doses for Flanders.

General practitioners and home nurses will be the first ones to be vaccinated in the centres, and from mid-March, it will be the rest of the adult population's turn, starting with people with underlying conditions.

According to Beke, the rest of Flanders' 95 vaccination centres should also be up and running by the end of next week, but it will mainly be a symbolic kick-off, as there are not enough vaccine doses available to get off to a flying start.

On Friday 5 February, it became clear that hospitals would not be able to vaccinate new staff members this week, but would only be able to administer a second dose to those who had already received a first one.

Now, it appears that the problems will continue for some time, as the Moderna delivery of 90,000 doses set for next week has been postponed. Of those doses, 51,000 were reserved for Flanders.

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On top of that, it is not even clear whether there will be any deliveries at all in February and how large they will be, the Beke cabinet confirmed to Het Laatste Nieuws. Moderna wants to make up the backlog in March.

The Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP), spokesperson Ann Eeckhout told De Morgen that it is difficult "to get stable information from AstraZeneca and Moderna."

According to Belgium's updated vaccination strategy, the AstraZeneca will be used for people between 18 and 55 years old, for several groups, including an estimated 200,000 healthcare workers.

Residents and staff aged between 18 and 55 in other collective care institutions, such as rehabilitation centres, psychiatric institutions, and staff in residential institutions for the protection of children and young people, will also be vaccinated with AstraZeneca. Older residents will receive the Pfizer vaccine.

While calculations about how many vaccines can be used this month, and for which groups, are ongoing, frustration is growing, among hospital staff for example. "Soon, the general public will get their shot before all healthcare staff do," Marc Moens of the Belgian Association of Medical Syndicates told media last week.

The Care and Health Agency said that it understands the frustration, but Beke also stated in the Flemish Parliament this week that the Agency is fully dependent on the supplies.

"It is not rocket science," Beke said. "I fully understand the disappointment and frustration in hospitals. But we have been asked to communicate only when we are sure. Moderna is very uncertain at the moment. So I can't say today, 'You can be sure of this much'."

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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