Communal authorities throughout Wallonia and Brussels are routinely giving police officers precedence for vaccinations ahead of the over-65s, according to an investigation by Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper.
Across the country, the vaccination taskforce has established the order in which the different population groups should be vaccinated. With care home residents and staff already covered, and the phase for medical workers passed, it is now the turn of people over the age of 65, as well as those over 54 with medical complications including heart trouble, obesity and diabetes.
Along the way, an opening has been created for ‘critical professions,’ including the police and firefighters.
But while a debate is ongoing as to whether school teachers should be included in the critical professions group, the paper has revealed that communes across Brussels and Wallonia, as well as some in Flanders, have thrown the loophole wide open and are vaccinating police officers in large numbers.
The problem is the different kinds of registration for vaccination operating in different places. In the main, people eligible for vaccination are informed and given a time and place to report to for the jab.
The problem appears to be that many elderly people either fail to understand the procedure at all, or do understand but are unable to make the appointment for whatever reason.
The leads to problems with planning, as a vaccination centre on the day in question will find itself with more vaccines left over than planned. And because of the difficulties of storing the vaccines at the proper temperature, those surplus vaccines have to be used up.
At that point, a call is made to the police, and officers stand ready to show up for vaccination at short notice.
The problem is understandable, but critics have pointed out it would make more sense to improve the appointments system rather than turn the vaccines over to one privileged group. While many police officers do have a critical function, the offer of vaccines also includes support staff, administrative staff – even, in one case, cleaners.
Some communes have taken the option of adapting the appointments system. Among them Antwerp and Ghent.
“My chief of police asked me why his men are not receiving vaccines and those of his Walloon colleagues are,” said Bart De Wever (N-VA), mayor of Antwerp. “I can only tell him that we are working the way we should, but that does not satisfy him, of course.”
In Antwerp, instead of a person receiving a fixed appointment, they have the possibility of choosing a date and time. The result is far fewer missed appointments – fewer than half of one percent, according to Fons Duchateau, city councillor for vaccination policy.
Compare that with the numbers in Wallonia. Communes using the imposed appointment system are experiencing between 5% and 10% of no-shows, which preferred groups are standing ready to fill.
In Liege, for example, on 10 March, they were able to vaccinate 180 police officers in one batch. The same day in Mons, one in five vaccinations administered was for a police officer, and in the days that followed, police were vaccinated at a rate of 20 a day.
The problem of missed appointment is not the only issue. When questioned, the Walloon agency Aviq admitted that the region had placed police officers on an equal footing to over-65s and those with medical conditions at the beginning of March – something the national guidelines did not do. In Brussels, likewise, police officers were pushed to the fore for alleged ‘gaps in the appointments schedule’.
“I just don’t have any surpluses to hand out,” explained De Wever. “I don’t think anyone wants us to purposely invite fewer people over 65 so that we can start working on the police more quickly. Because you have to be honest: every shot you give to a cop today is one that was actually provided for a person over 65 who did not show up. And perhaps that was because he or she could not free themselves at that one time determined by the government.”