Belgium is exploring a vaccine strategy in which more people would get their first coronavirus vaccinations faster than currently planned.
Belgium’s vaccination task force is looking into a scenario in which as many people as possible would get their first coronavirus vaccinations, rather than a smaller group of people receiving their second dose of the vaccine a few weeks later.
The idea was put forward by epidemiologist Pierre Van Damme, who said it would allow “to reach more people more quickly and achieve group immunity more quickly.” It follows criticism after news broke that people aged over 65 would receive their vaccinations as late as May.
A single-dose strategy, which is also being explored in the Canadian province of Quebec, could allow the whole Belgian population to receive a first vaccination before the summer, according to Van Damme.
Most vaccines require a second dose, but the period in between both vaccinations could be extended to six months, according to Van Damme. “In the meantime, you’ve made sure that you can vaccinate very widely,” he said.
Van Damme was backed by several other experts like microbiologist Herman Goossens and virologist Johan Neyts, who warned that if the new coronavirus strain discovered in the UK reaches Belgium, “as many people as possible should be protected. By doubling the number of vaccinations we can vaccinate more people.”
According to Neyts, a single vaccine dose would still be effective. “A study with Pfizer’s vaccine shows that it provides good protection up to 90 percent after an initial dose,” he told Dutch-speaking Radio 1 on Monday.
“The second dose serves to maximise that protection and activate our body’s memory for maximum effect. But with that activation of the memory you can wait six months,” Neyts said, confirming Van Damme’s statement that the second dose can wait.
The first Belgians are set to receive their initial vaccine on Monday in three nursing homes – one in Woluwé-Saint-Pierre in Brussels, one in Puurs-Sint-Amands in the province of Antwerp, and one in Mons.
The vaccines arrived at Leuven’s University Hospital on Saturday, where they were thawed the next day.
While limited pilot tests will be carried out on Monday and Wednesday, the official start of Belgium’s vaccination campaign is scheduled for 5 January 2021.