Certain under-56s can still get AstraZeneca’s vaccine, if they want to
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Certain under-56s can still get AstraZeneca’s vaccine, if they want to

Credit: Belga

Certain people under 56 years old who explicitly state that they want to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s vaccine can still get the jab, despite Belgium’s decision to temporarily stop using it for that age group.

Following the decision to only give the AstraZeneca vaccine to over-55s, about 6,000 people in Flanders and several hundred in the French-speaking Community who were already scheduled to receive the shot have to be contacted, so their appointment can be rebooked.

However, those who explicitly want to keep their slot with AstraZeneca’s vaccine, can also decide to do so.

“We informed the vaccination centres that people who want it, can still get the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Ria Vandenreyt of the Care and Health Agency told The Brussels Times.

“People have the option to choose another vaccine, but if they want to stick with AstraZeneca, they have to confirm that they have received all the necessary information about the vaccine and possible side effects from the doctor at the centre,” she said.

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This can be done verbally, and people will not be asked to sign anything, according to Vandenreyt, who said that the country’s health ministers are looking into the process.

“However, we assume that only a very small minority will stick with AstraZeneca, and that most people will opt for another vaccine,” she added.

Additionally, it is not yet clear what this temporary pause means for the second doses of the vaccine, as Belgium’s health ministers still have to make a decision.

“The health ministers have now decided to acquire additional information, mainly from the UK, since they vaccinated much more already, including second doses,” Vandenreyt said. “We are waiting for an opinion, based on that information.”

“However, we still have some time for that, because the first vaccinations will not take place until May,” she added.

Earlier this week, Flemish Health Minister Beke already stated that the temporary age limit on AstraZeneca jabs will have “minimal impact” on the country’s vaccination rollout, as mainly elderly people are being vaccinated.

Additionally, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and Belgium’s Superior Health Council will use the coming weeks to gather more scientific data and develop specific advice per age group.

“It is a life-saving vaccine,” professor Isabel Leroux-Roels (UZ Ghent), who is a member of the Council, said on Flemish radio on Friday morning.

“In our country, 170 people still die every week from the coronavirus. And the side effect is very rare and occurs at most in 1 in 100,000 cases, perhaps even less,” she said, adding that the EMA stated that the benefits still outweigh the risks, but for now has only issued an opinion for all ages.

“The risk-benefit analysis must also be made per age group,” said Leroux-Roels. “We are now looking at what the underlying mechanism is and what the risk factors are.”

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times