The vast majority of us are eagerly awaiting our Covid vaccination. But what is the process in Belgium? What can we expect? How will we be notified? Priority for vaccination has been for care home residents and frontline health workers but now the invitations to be ‘jabbed’ are starting to be sent out to the public. BBCA council member Alan Davis got an invite on Wednesday 17 March and received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine just two days later. BBCA News talked to him about the process.
“I received an email with all the links to book an appointment on Wednesday afternoon - the 17th,” says Alan. "At first there seemed to be an issue with booking appointments, perhaps the system was overloaded initially, but with some persistence I got through and managed to book for the Friday. I was sent an eTicket by email with a Barcode and QR code with both of my dates.” Alan recommends that people show persistence if the booking system seems initially slow.
The initial email to Alan was in French and Dutch, but you can find translations of its content in over 20 languages (including English) here. This first email contains advice and information on Covid and the vaccination process and a link and code to book an appointment. Alan chose to attend the Heysel vaccination centre because, once he was allowed in the system, it had appointments for the Friday.
Letters are also issued, in addition to, or instead of email. Alan also received a letter some six days after the initial email. The letter also outlines the procedure and indicates that people unable to access the internet should ask a family or a friend to go online and make the appointment for them or to call to make the appointment booking.
If people have technical issues accessing appointments, there is a dedicated helpline, but please do not hesitate to contact BBCA if you need additional help as we can link you to people who have gone through the process already and/ or can help you with making your appointment online.
Once the appointments are booked the eTicket invite is sent. Alan’s invite is shown below. He got the Pfizer injection – the trade name for the Pfizer vaccine is Comirnaty. The Astra Zeneca COVID19 vaccine has the trade name Vaxzevria.
In Brussels, the eTicket email also comes with instructions on how to access free travel to get to your nominated vaccination centre via STIB/MIVB using the Eventpass option on their ticket machines. “I have an over 65 pass, so I didn’t need to use that option,” says Alan.
Alan was impressed by the smooth operation of the vaccination centre at Heysel.
“It was generally a first-class example of Belgian bureaucracy at is best,” he explains. “You must have your ID or residents’ card with you and the invitation. You are controlled on entering the building with the appointment system seeming to limit arrivals to match the flow throughout the whole process.”
“You register within 15 minutes of arrival, then at Heysel there were five vaccination lines to select, with roughly three people in each line before you,” he continues. “A student called me through, asked a few basic health questions, and then sleeve up and done.”
“There was no undue wait or overcrowding. The authorities can clearly cope with the flow and looking at the space at the Heysel they could easily scale up many times as supply increases,” says Alan. “There is a 30-minute wait as you leave, I guess to catch any immediate reactions to the jab, and you get a biscuit and a Christmas chocolate while you wait. Then the registration process again to log your departure – all in all the whole experience, for me, door-to-door took around two and a half hours.”
The eTicket for the second dose appointment comes with the first, dated and coded, and this appointment must be confirmed via the website.
Alan is concerned that the process is very tech driven, which could be a challenge for some people who are not so IT literate. “There are phone numbers too in the email invite to confirm appointments if you cannot access the website. You are also permitted to bring someone with you if you require assistance, but they must have their ID with them and, of course, there is wheelchair access and people available to carry you up the stairs if you can’t manage yourself,” explains Alan.
Any side effects to report? “Only a slightly tender upper arm,” concludes Alan.
Do not forget that the full protection provided by the vaccines takes 10-14 days to develop after the initial injection, so keep safe in the interim.
More information on the COVID-19 situation in Belgium can be found here.