Sudden ‘acceleration’ about vaccines, mass vaccination already in March, but municipalities remain with many questions

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Open Vld) and his Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) quickly understood that the criticism about the vaccine approach was calling for a change, after which Flemish minister Wouter Beke (CD&V) later also called in. The very careful approach of leaving vaccines in the fridge is being adjusted. For example, the vaccination should be faster. Flemish minister Bart Somers (Open Vld) already wants to prepare for mass campaigns in March. However, the municipalities that have to supervise the vaccination campaign are still not aware of anything and are complaining. So the criticism is not gone.

In the news: The reaction of Vandenbroucke and then Beke, to switch to the vaccination campaign.

The details: It suddenly went from “starting with safety in mind” to “speeding up now”.

  • Communication is important in a crisis, that is kicking in an open door. But it is and will remain a lesson that you experience when Alexander De Croo (Open Vld), the Prime Minister, and certainly his Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) should not learn.
  • Because they felt yesterday obviously wet about the vaccines, of which Belgium had already started administering about 700. The contrast with other countries, such as Israel, the US, the UK, but also the EU country Denmark, could hardly be greater.
  • The criticism about the slow Belgian start-up, and especially the initial defense “that we went for quality”, and prefer to “proceed with extreme caution”, and also that “it was a marathon and not a sprint”, it was all not enough. The actions of Dirk Ramaekers, head of the vaccination strategy task force, in To the point Monday can be called downright dramatic.
  • Including the approach to leave whole fridges full of vaccines, to have “a different one ready” for each vaccine administered, drew strong criticism. The target figure of 30,000 vaccines administered in the first wave did not seem to be achieved.
  • And so yesterday a new mantra followed: “Acceleration”, suddenly became the message. And there was “asked the task force to speed up the campaign ”. That is of course the government that asks itself to go the extra mile, but communicatively it worked.
  • After criticism from almost the entire opposition, from N-VA over cdH to Vlaams Belang and PVDA, the Minister of Health took matters into the House: “No vaccine should be left in a freezer. They have to all used as soon as possible be ”, he declared in the hemisphere.
  • This was followed by the Flemish level, that always lags behind in this crisis, when it comes to the medical approach. Because Flemish Welfare Minister Wouter Beke (CD&V) also came with the news that “there will be faster vaccination campaigns”, and “that no more vaccines from the current stock will remain in the refrigerator with a view to a second injection”.
  • They linked that news to Pfizer, the manufacturer of the vaccine that is already being shipped, who confirmed deliveries will be in the coming weeks. This involves 250,000 doses for Flanders. “As a result, we no longer have to keep stockWas the reasoning.
  • Critical reactions from the opposition also followed in the Flemish Parliament, there it is Groen, Vooruit and Vlaams Belang. The fact that Flanders is slower than Wallonia during vaccination did not go unnoticed. But Beke remained calm, although he undoubtedly likes himself today in the Flemish Parliament again to expect a barrage of questions.
  • The only one who in the meantime still got a little bit of communication out of the corner was Federal Deputy Prime Minister Petra De Sutter (Groen), although she herself has a lot of medical training. On To the point last night she stayed with the line that “Europe has chosen security”. “They want to keep confidence high by correctly following the procedure. Not only the United Kingdom and Israel, but also Russia and China are vaccinating people with vaccines that do not have the same standard as the one we use, ”she stated.
  • That’s a strange statement about Israel and the UK. Because in that first country they work with it vaccine from Pfizer, which is now also administered in Belgium, in the UK they also work with Moderna and AZ, all producers from which the EU also purchased. The bureaucratic mill is only going a bit slower, and purchases in the EU were less rapid. De Sutter also immediately received a few strong reactions from the international press, that her statement was “nonsense”.

The big picture: Is the fuss about vaccinations gone now? It is to be feared.

  • Today, the Interministerial Conference on Health is meeting again, a long and expensive name for the meeting that is to bring together the nine ministers of health of this country, led by Wouter Beke. They must try to align.
  • But where Flanders would only get a good 6,700 vaccinations this month, Brussels has a faster strategy to administer 4,000 vaccines in residential care centers, and in Wallonia they even go for 12,000 vaccinations: the double. Wallonia is just getting off the starting blocks faster.
  • The image in French-speaking Belgium is also mediatics so completely different, there lies Christie Morreale (PS) much less under attack then Beke on the Flemish side. The debate there revolves much more around the sequence of the vaccines, a fierce open letter from the medical world argued for it to prioritize healthcare providers and medical personnel on vaccines, instead of focusing on the residents of residential care centers.
  • It has been decided that the staff of those residential care centers are now also vaccinated. But Friday, Vandenbroucke wants to come up with more clarity about the whole. Tomorrow a meeting is also planned with the taskforce itself. But whether Vandenbroucke and Beke can now announce a spectacular acceleration by Friday is doubtful: there is the bottleneck of European orders, which means that Belgium cannot go faster. Apparently there are no guarantees about deliveries in February either.
  • Moreover, there is now already very much pressure on residential care centers and hospitals, who work with staff who have been on the gum for months because colleagues drop out. A new plan, which must go even faster, creates more tension there. On the other hand, few saw the benefit of leaving thousands of vaccines waiting in the fridge.
  • But they are not the only ones who have questions about the organization of the vaccination campaign. In particular the municipalities are stirring. Because after the residential care centers in January, a first mass vaccination must take place in February. This is then organized at the level of the municipalities, with large “vaccination villages”. At least that is what is being prepared in the neighboring countries.
  • Because in Flanders the mayors received no letter of additional info yet, much to the chagrin of local administrators. “Those decisions have still not been taken. It’s time for them to lay their eggs. The vaccinations have to be done as close to the people as possible to be successful ”, warns Nathalie Debast on behalf of the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities.
  • But here too a typical Belgian soap threatens: Flanders is competent for the municipalities, but the federal government decides on hospitals. And in the meantime, the policy levels seem to be waiting for each other.
  • This chaos is extra difficult to accept, because the government has been talking for months about the vaccines as “the solution” to the corona crisis, the “ray of hope at the end of the tunnel”. So they have had the time for months to prepare for that vaccination campaign. In the meantime, no one of the policymakers could have failed to notice how articles appear in the press about the way in which the Israeli government, specialized in crisis management, meticulously planned and carried out that campaign in its own country.
  • And look, a first answer has already been given there: this morning Bart Somers (Open Vld), in the Flemish government responsible for the municipalities, informed Belga “that he is working with local authorities wants to be ready to vaccinate the wider population in early March“. Until now, that schedule was on April-May.

Announced: With a lot of fanfare, he now comes, the “pandemic law”.

  • “De Wetten van Verlinden”, is written in large letters under a front page of Knack that could have been worthy of Vogue: the photo of CD&V’s new leading lady splash off. And the Minister of the Interior is sure: “No, the rule of law don’t sit on a roller coaster“.
  • Today, after all, Verlinden announces, in just about all newspapers, one legal framework to underpin the entire corona approach, a so-called “pandemic law”. She developed her cabinet, together with Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld).
  • That law comes after severe criticism was heard about the way in which measures such as a curfew, the closure of certain cases, entering homes, banning someone’s access to a second home, or the control of citizens with drones. . For a number of those cases, which are manifestly against fundamental rights, was missing nevertheless the necessary democratic foundation via Parliament.
  • And worse, a number of local administrators abused the corona crisis to go even further locally: in Willebroek, for example, a mayor of N-VA introduced the curfew “for the sake of safety”, which of course is not possible.
  • A new “pandemic law” must now “offer” a number of possible measures that policymakers can legally take in the event of a pandemic. Then such measures will immediately have a democratic majority in Parliament behind them. Because until now everything went through Royal Decrees and MBs, royal and ministerial decrees of the government itself: a little thin, to limit freedom so far, with such legal instruments.
  • But whether all criticism can be tempered, with the pandemic law, and whether the rule of law is “not on the roller coaster”, as Verlinden puts it? Well, in De Morgen, constitution specialist Patricia Popelier is already warning: “We must be careful not to give a blank check with this. A curtailment of fundamental rights can only be accepted out of special urgency, and if the existing measures are not sufficient. At the very least, procedural guarantees should be built into the pandemic law for such an expansion. Afterwards, it must also always receive the approval of parliament. ”

Also noted: At least one government party continues to ask critical questions. That of Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR).

  • The announcement of Verlinden’s pandemic law comes just as the federal government is in full force rolls out its homework checks. Organizing inspections, that goes like a train, for the inspectors.
  • Anyone who turns out to be in violation can expect hefty fines. It is yet another additional element in one meanwhile very regulated climate of rules, some of which remain difficult to explain.
  • Remarkably, the remarks of MR chairman Georges-Louis Bouchez, still the second largest government party after the PS. He responded this morning to an article in La Libre, which gave “five reasons” why the hairdressers are still closed. “We have right to a genuine scientific study. Not on a series of considerations. We shouldn’t be afraid to make tough decisions, we’ve been doing that for a year. But that must be done on a more solid basis ”, he stated in full.
  • Bouchez had previously been critical of the closure of too many businesses, often small self-employed people, who are right in the MR electorate. But it the French-speaking liberals lack some strength in the government. Deputy Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès (MR) is mainly focused on foreign files, and for the rest there is only David Clarinval (MR), who tries, but cannot compete with the crushing roller of Vandenbroucke and De Croo.


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