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Change of course for Belgian vaccination

The uncertainties weighing on the AstraZeneca vaccine are leading the kingdom to review its program.

The uncertainties weighing on the AstraZeneca vaccine are leading the kingdom to review its program.

From our correspondent, Max Helleff (Brussels) – The news has put balm in the hearts of all those who want to believe in the vaccination strategy followed by Belgium. According to the latest figures, deaths attributed to the coronavirus are down 21%, a decrease especially noticeable among those over 85.

Should we see the first effects of vaccination? Belgium has decided to vaccinate residents of nursing homes as a priority, before moving on to caregivers, people with co-morbidities, “critical” professions, then to the general population. These figures – which have yet to be reconciled – are all the more remarkable given that the staff of nursing homes is mostly reluctant to be vaccinated and can therefore constitute a risk for the elderly.

A decrease, but less significant, is also noticeable in hospital admissions. For the biostatistician Geert Molenberghs (universities of Louvain and Hasselt), “it is a fact that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is already effective”.

Other information is less exciting. To date, only 300,000 people have received the first dose of Pfizer vaccine. In unison with other European countries, the Minister of Public Health Frank Vandenbroucke has also decided that the AstraZeneca vaccine will temporarily no longer be administered to those over 55 years of age.

“The Superior Health Council says very clearly that the AstraZeneca vaccine is a very good vaccine for people between 18 and 55 years old,” he said. “But today we don’t have enough data to say for sure that it works as well in older people.” This decision has cascading effects on the entire immunization program.

Failing to fully trust AstraZeneca, Belgium has placed new orders with Moderna (3.8 million doses from June). All eyes are also on the Russian vaccine Spoutnik V. Pharmacologist Jean-Michel Dogné, an expert with Belgian and European drug agencies, says he is impressed by “remarkable know-how”.

Agreement in principle

On Wednesday, an agreement was signed between the English pharmaceutical group GSK and the German biotech Curevac, which has developed a vaccine against variants of the virus based on messenger RNA technology. GSK Wavre (south of Brussels) will take care of the formulation of this RNA (mixture, dilution, etc.) and the bottling. One hundred million doses should leave its production lines this year.

For now, it is also necessary to designate who will be entitled to the available vaccines. Nursing staff will be vaccinated in Flanders and Wallonia from mid-February.

An agreement in principle has just been reached with regard to comorbidities. Priority will be given for vaccination to people aged 45 to 64 suffering from chronic diseases (cardiovascular, pulmonary or neurological, hypertension, etc.). In addition, there are patients with hematologic cancerous tumors, chronic liver or kidney disease, or even AIDS.

According to some indiscretions, the first arrivals of AstraZeneca vaccine expected for February 7 – 80,000 then some 200,000 doses ten days later – could be reserved for people exercising essential trades (police, firefighters, etc. or even teachers). As for the surplus, the Socialist Paul Magnette proposes to allocate it to the students. “There would be no point in keeping it in stock, you might as well use it,” he said.

At the same time, just over 6,000 doses of covid-19 vaccine were wasted in Belgium, according to figures from the vaccination task force, cited in Het Laatste Nieuws on Wednesday. Or 2% of the doses delivered to date. According to the spokesperson for the task force, these losses could be linked to transport problems or human errors.


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