96-year-old will be first to get coronavirus vaccine

Summary

Belgium’s vaccination programme begins after Christmas, with an initial supply sufficient for 1,250 staff and residents of care homes

‘Fantastic present’

The first person to receive a coronavirus vaccine in Flanders will be a 96-year-old man living at a care home in Antwerp province a few kilometres from where the vaccine is being produced. Jos Herman is the oldest resident at Sint-Pieter nursing home in Puurs, and will receive the vaccine on Monday morning.

“I’m 96 years old and I’m glad to be having the jab,” he told reporters when the schedule was confirmed. “I want to get to 100, no more, no less.”

Belgium’s vaccination programme starts at 11.00 on 28 December, for staff and residents at one care home in each of the three regions. The vaccines will be delivered to UZ Leuven on Saturday, before being transferred to the three homes – in Puurs, Sint-Pieters-Woluwe and Mons – on Monday at 8.00.

The Sint-Pieter home, close to the Pfizer pharmaceutical plant where the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being produced, is home to 135 residents across two sites. All other residents of the home who wish to be vaccinated will be able to do so. Puurs mayor Koen Van den Heuvel told VRT the vaccination was “a fantastic Christmas gift for our residents and our municipality”.

Voluntary procedure

There are 370,000 people living and working in Belgium’s care homes, with 200,000 of those in Flanders. Each vaccination requires two doses three weeks apart. Initially a “symbolic” batch of 2,500 doses will be available for administration before the end of the year, with more to follow in January. In total, Belgium has ordered 5 million doses as part of the European Union’s agreement with the producer of the vaccine, the first to be approved for use in the EU.

Vaccination in nursing homes is expected to be complete by the end of February, and attention will then turn to the second priority group: staff of hospitals and other front-line medical workers. The vaccine is not mandatory, but care homes hope as many people as possible will consent.

I’m 96 years old and I’m glad to be having the jab

- Jos Hermans

“People can choose whether they want to,” Margot Cloet of care home and hospital network Zorgnet-Icuro told VRT. “One-third of residents suffer from dementia, so other people have to decide for them. But we hope that the ratio will be as high as possible. That is why we are doing our best to inform everyone.”

Meanwhile, the federal government has allocated €4 million to make vaccines accessible in developing countries as part of a global initiative coordinated by the World Health Organization and involving 180 countries. The objective is to buy 2 billion doses; the type of vaccine and the countries that will receive them have not yet been agreed.

Photo: Jos Hermans talks to reporters at the Sint-Pieter nursing home in Puurs
© Belga/James Arthur Gekiere