The Belgian government has placed orders to allow it to build up a reserve of Covid-19 vaccines, in the event that the decision is taken to start a campaign of booster-shots for the whole population.
Tomorrow sees the start of a free booster shot for the over-65s and those with underlying conditions. Both groups received their original vaccinations near the start of the campaign last year. The idea is that vaccine efficacy will have gone down since then, and a pick-up would not only be useful, but would provide longer-lasting protection.
Logically, the same effect might be expected to be seen among younger age groups, but for the time being the Vaccination Task Force has decided there is no case for extending booster shots to the rest of the population.
Nonetheless, the government is planning ahead.
'Belgium is part of a major contract from the European Commission for 900 million Pfizer vaccines', said Jan Eyckmans, spokesperson for federal health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit).
“We have reserved our share for 2022 and 2023 to ensure that we can vaccinate if necessary.”
Future orders will involve only mRNA vaccines like Pfizer and Moderna, which have been shown to be more effective. According to the head of the task force, the current order is for 23 million doses of Pfizer and a small number of Moderna.
But Dirk Ramaekers, head of the task force, stressed that the order of the vaccines should not be taken as a sign that a new booster campaign was on the way.
For the moment there is no scientific reason for launching a new campaign. But the task force is following the progress of the pandemic closely, and needs to be able to react if the need arises.
The order currently outstanding puts Belgium in a comfortable position regarding vaccine stocks. Any subsequent vaccination campaigns should no longer depend on how quickly deliveries can be made.
And surpluses can be passed on to the UN's Covax programme, which aims to ensure that vaccines are available worldwide, including in poorer countries.