Belgians this year will not be able to celebrate the holiday period in the way to which they have become accustomed, federal health minister Maggie De Block (Open VLD) has warned.
Meanwhile a Belgian MEP has advised the rush to provide a vaccine could lead to safety risks, loss of public confidence and a lack of democratic controls.
De Block was speaking on news that the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which has a contract with the EU to supply vaccines against Covid-19 to the member states, has said it will have the first 1.4 million doses of their vaccine ready for distribution by March.
The figure is a long way short of the requirements of Belgium, let alone the entire EU, but De Block, who is a physician by training, said that even at full capacity, the vaccine will not guarantee a return to life as it was pre-corona.
“We must not create false expectations,” she told De Morgen in an interview on Saturday.
“Any virus can mutate, causing the vaccine to stop working. You must also have a 70% vaccination rate in the population. Injecting the entire population will easily take a year or a year and a half. So March does not suddenly mean a return to the good old days.”
As the world’s Muslims have already experienced at the time of Ramadan and Eid, the health situation will mean a radical change to the old habits at festive times.
“We won’t be able to celebrate Christmas and New Year as usual,” said De Block.
“In my family we are already wondering how we will organise things. My mother will be 80 next week, and she now has a great-grandchild. Those four generations together, that’s a dangerous combination. There are so many intense family moments that we must all miss out on now and that are hard to come by.”
Meanwhile another Belgian politician, MEP Petra De Sutter (Groen) – who is also a physician – has warned against rushing the development of a vaccine in the hope it will be a cure-all to the world’s current ills.
The European Commission has already said it is prepared to be flexible on the matter of procedures in order to be able to rush a vaccine to the population.
“In the race for a vaccine, people are apparently willing to sacrifice safety,” De Sutter told the VRT. “That could have disastrous consequences for public trust in a vaccine.”
Her misgivings also concern the seven experts who have been appointed by the Commission to advise them on negotiating with the pharmaceutical company or companies. Only one name has so far been revealed: Richard Bergström, the former head of the European pharmaceutical lobby.
“From start to finish, everything is being publicly funded,” she said. “That is why we as MEPs believe we should be able to monitor the negotiations democratically.”
As well as Belgium’s initial delivery of 1.4 million doses, the commission last week signed a contract with AstraZeneca for 300 million doses, with an option for a further 100 million extra doses later.
The Commission has also reached agreements with pharmaceutical companies Sanofi-GSK, Johnson & Johnson, CureVac and Moderna, the VRT reports.