Giving everyone first vaccine by 11 July no longer feasible, says Beke

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Credit: Belga/Hatim Kaghat

Offering all adults in Flanders their first vaccine dose by 11 July will no longer be feasible following the age limit put in place for the Johnson & Johnson jab, according to Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke.

As Belgium on Wednesday decided to temporarily stop administering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot to under-41s, Beke stated that the impact on the vaccination campaign would be too big to still reach his symbolic 11 July target date.

"Of course, this age limit has an effect on the vaccinations," he said in the Flemish Parliament. "I have always said that we could give everyone their first shot by 11 July, if everything went well with the deliveries. That is not the case now."

According to Beke, it will be closer to 85% of the adult population who will have received their first dose by then. "That is still high," he said.

In total, Belgium is now counting on 900,000 million (instead of the initially announced 1.4 million) Johnson & Johnson vaccines by the end of June. However, only about 143,000 were delivered so far, partly because millions of doses are blocked from distribution while waiting for the green light from the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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However, even if the remaining doses are still delivered on time, a large proportion of them can no longer be used, due to Belgium's age limit, according to Beke's cabinet.

Just like AstraZeneca's vaccine, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will continue to be used for those aged 41 and older. The single-shot jab will continue to be used for precarious groups, such as homeless people, the Vaccination Taskforce stated.

Additionally, both AstraZeneca and Pfizer announced on Thursday that they would not be able to deliver the expected number of doses this week, Gudrun Briat of the Vaccination Taskforce confirmed to Het Laatste Nieuws.

Due to the uncertainty and the imposed age limit, the Flemish Agency for Care and Health even decided to take its planning tool - which allowed people to estimate when they would be vaccinated based on their age - offline for the time being.

"As soon as we have more information about the availability of the different vaccines in the coming weeks, you will find the planning for when which ages will be covered again here," the website currently states.

However, despite these negative announcements, the relaxations planned for 9 June as the first stage of the Consultative Committee's "summer plan" are not expected to be compromised.

On Thursday, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs dropped below the alarm threshold of 500, already fulfilling one of the conditions set by the Consultative Committee for the easing.

The other one, which states that 80% of at-risk people have to be vaccinated at least once, is not expected to be a problem either. Earlier this week, 72% of that group was vaccinated, with an 80% coverage rate expected by the start of June.

In the meantime, Beke's cabinet told local newspaper Het Belang van Limburg that they "remain ambitious to offer [everyone] their first shot very quickly. We are still calculating the delay, but as soon as we can, we will put forward a new target date."

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