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Winter flu vaccine available to all without prescription

09:22 04/10/2021

The flu vaccine is now available in all Belgian pharmacies – and there are no restrictions this year. Anyone who wants the jab can get it: 3.78 million doses are available, a quarter more than last year.

A doctor's prescription is not necessary to get the vaccine from the pharmacy (the injection, however, should always be done by a healthcare professional). The idea is to avoid going back and forth to the doctor: making a first appointment to get a prescription, getting the vaccine from the pharmacy, and then having to go back to your doctor a second time to have it administered.

"What is new this year is that we can apply third-party payment for a wider array of patients,” said Valérie Lacour, a Brussels pharmacist. “Last year, we could only reimburse patients over 50. This year, patients from risk groups, health personnel, and those over 50 qualify.”

The Superior Health Council recommends vaccination from 15 October for the following three groups:

  1. people at risk of complications, namely: anyone 65 years of age and over; any patient from the age of six months with an underlying chronic condition, even stabilized, of pulmonary (including severe asthma), cardiac (except hypertension), hepatic, renal, metabolic (including diabetes), a BMI over 35, neuromuscular or immune disorders (natural or induced); people residing in institutions; and all pregnant women regardless of the stage of pregnancy.
  2. all workers in the healthcare sector
  3. people living under the same roof as people in group 1 and/or children under six months.

But it’s not advisable to get vaccinated too early, according to general practitioner Françoise Body. “Before 15 October, I think it's premature because if the flu epidemic is a little later, in February, for example, the immunity given by this vaccine will be greatly reduced,” she said.

“It only covers a few months – four or five. So between 15 October and 15 November 15 is the right time to get vaccinated.”

Alain Chaspierre, spokesman for the Belgian Pharmaceutical Association, said: "It is true that last year, with the protective measures, such as face masks, hydroalcoholic gels, hand washing or social distancing, there was no flu. Because there wasn't a lot of flu last year, there is no induced immunity this year. And that's what the experts fear.

“There is therefore a fear, especially since protective measures will undoubtedly be increasingly lifted, that the flu will be more virulent, that the virus will transmitted more easily and reach groups at risk. We know, for example, that someone who is vaccinated every year has much greater immunity than someone who does so sporadically or not at all."

Chaspierre added that people should not worry about being vaccinated for both Covid 19 and the flu: “There is no problem with having both injections, even simultaneously. You should of course not inject in the same arm, but other than that there is no problem."

Written by Richard Harris