Belgian hospitals and residential care centres are pleading for mandatory vaccination against the coronavirus of all care staff across the country, and are asking the Consultative Committee to make a decision on Friday.
"To reduce the coronavirus and provide safe care, it is necessary for the government to make vaccination obligatory for all employees in care facilities," the care umbrella organisations, which include all hospitals and most residential care centres in Belgium, wrote in a joint press release on Tuesday.
The intended vaccination coverage rate of 70% is far from being achieved everywhere and in all occupational categories, according to recent report by Sciensano. Additionally, as the Delta variant is gaining ground, the umbrella organisations believe that the government must intervene.
"It is now clear that vaccination plays an extremely important role in preventing a fourth wave," they wrote. "More and more studies are also pointing towards the need for a higher vaccination coverage than the original target of 70% for the whole population. Figures of 85-90% are now being put forward to reach the stage of group immunity."
According to the sector, making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory "will create clarity and eliminate the tensions that currently exist between unvaccinated and vaccinated healthcare staff."
Currently, Italy is the only EU country where vaccination is mandatory for healthcare workers, with a very positive result, as 98% of them have at least received their first vaccine dose.
The authorities should take action as soon as possible, according to Margot Cloet of the Flemish umbrella organisation Zorgnet-Icuro.
"We must first continue to raise awareness. To make vaccination compulsory, we have to talk to the trade unions. Ultimately, that has to be enshrined in a law," she told VRT.
"We call on the Belgian authorities not to delay any longer and not to lose time. They can possibly decide on Friday at the Consultative Committee to go ahead with it."
'Political debate is needed'
A political debate about making the Covid-19 vaccination is needed, and the staff should also be involved in it, according to Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon.
On Monday evening, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that health workers in France would be obliged to be vaccinated, and a similar measure was announced in Greece.
French healthcare staff who have not been vaccinated by 15 September will no longer be allowed to work, and will not be paid, he announced during a press conference.
In Belgium, the authorities opted for voluntary vaccination, said Corona Commissioner Pedro Facon on Flemish radio on Tuesday morning.
Among healthcare providers, this is going very well for certain groups, but other groups such as physiotherapists, nurses or midwives are lagging behind, according to him.
Facon stressed that at the moment, about one million high-risk people (those over 65 years old, or with an underlying condition) are not yet fully vaccinated, but it is also important to vaccinate people who are less likely to get sick, such as teenagers, to reduce the circulation of the virus.