Veerle Heeren, mayor of Sint-Truiden in Limburg province, has admitted she was vaccinated ahead of time in March, despite being aged only 56 with no underlying conditions.
At the time, vaccinations were being reserved for people aged over 85 and residents of care homes.
“At that time, there were quite large amounts of unassigned vaccines on a daily basis due to the lack of a call-up system and a group of called-in healthcare providers having previously been vaccinated at their facility,” Heeren (CD&V) explained in a statement.
“I assure you that we followed closely the government's vaccination strategy, including the fact that a number of target groups and priority lists were established.”
According to the statement, she had refused previous suggestions she take up one of the leftover doses herself.
“But given my daily presence at the vaccination centre as mayor, I finally accepted this suggestion,” she said.
Questioned whether others, including family or friends, were also vaccinated out of turn at her instigation, Heeren declined to answer.
“At no point did I intervene for anyone concretely and I was also not notified if and when they were called. In any case, these people were only vaccinated with surplus. For example, we succeeded in never letting a single vaccine go to waste.”
All along, the policy has been to allow some people, including front-line service workers, to be vaccinated out of turn using surplus doses, left over for example when those with appointments fail to turn up.
However it has always been made clear that the extra doses are not intended to allow members of the public – including municipal officials – to jump the queue while members of the priority groups remain waiting. And certainly not in the beginning phases of the vaccination campaign, when supplies were lower and the most urgent cases still had to be inoculated.
According to opposition council member Ludwig Vandenhove (Vooruit), Heeren was vaccinated not once, like most people at that time, but twice, on 10 and 31 March. Even now, only one in four of those who received their first shot have also received the second, and 65% of the adult population has still to receive any vaccine at all.
In Heeren’s age group, only 9% of people are fully vaccinated, and many of them have underlying conditions.
“I am convinced that I have not done anything illegal, but I would not do this again,” Heeren concludes. “I am aware I made an error of judgment. Moreover, I did not foresee the incorrect perception that has arisen in recent days and I would like to expressly apologise for this to the residents of the Sint-Truiden region.”