New leaks in investigation of Belgian mayor who jumped vaccine queue

New leaks in investigation of Belgian mayor who jumped vaccine queue
© Sint-Truiden

Details of a forensic audit on the Belgian mayor who jumped the vaccination queue and helped friends and family members do the same continue to leak.

Veerle Heeren (CD&V), mayor of Sint-Truiden in Limburg province, made headlines this summer for getting vaccinated early, before her age group was supposed to get the shot as the country prioritised the elderly and most vulnerable groups.

The latest information from the investigation into the matter, which comes from editors at Het Belang van Limburg who were able to view the report, includes some of the audit’s main conclusions.

These include that Heeren, along with 14 others, was indeed vaccinated in a manner that “did not take place in accordance with” the vaccination strategy, and that the mayor had “made a serious ethical mistake.”

The list of people that Heeren helped vaccinate early includes city councillor Raf Herbots (CD&V) and his wife, a city official and his wife, a former Flemish top official and his wife, a former alderman of Open VLD Jos Pierard, a hairdresser, her sister from Tongeren and her son.

She called a number of people herself, and passed on the names of others, between 9 March and 9 April.

Heeren’s defence was that some appointments were not filled, but Audit Flanders noted that the rules for the reserve lists were not followed, regardless.

Two of Heeren's cabinet colleagues were also vaccinated early and questioned about it, but Heeren was not involved in that.

The email accounts of Heeren, her cabinet colleagues and a civil servant were also investigated in order to find out whether the mayor systematically favoured people for vaccination.

The analysis showed that there was seemingly no system in place for prioritising, but Heeren did not provide the names by e-mail, rather using telephone or WhatsApp.

She deleted the WhatsApp messages, saying she did so “because it is personal information that, according to the law, should not be stored any longer than necessary.”

In investigating her emails, however, it became clear that the mayor was forwarding all her official correspondence to her private email address.

Heeren said she was vaccinated early because she is head of the security cell and was regularly present in the vaccination centre.

But when the auditor asked health authorities what role a mayor would need to be fulfilling at a vaccination centre, they were told that there is none - a mayor has no duties inside a vaccination centre.

A first round of leaks from Trudocs, the website for local news in Sint-Truiden that originally broke the story, included the information that once the news was released that Heeren had jumped the queue, she began to compile a dossier of evidence in her defence by using her government position to obtain medical information regarding some of those involved, which she then communicated to a private organisation preparing her defence.

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