The Belgian government said Monday it intends to make any coronavirus vaccine available to around 70 percent of the population, some eight million people, and free of charge.
The jab will not be compulsory, added Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke as he and regional counterparts attended an interministerial health conference.
“The objective is to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the population. Priority groups will be determined on the basis of scientific opinion and social debate,” Vandenbroucke stated.
“Vaccination will be free for every citizen” receiving it, he added.
Belgium, population 11.5 million, has registered almost 540,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 14,000 deaths to date. Its death rate per million residents is one of the worst in Europe.
As an EU member state Belgium is engaged in bloc-wide procedures for bulk purchases of anti-Covid-19 vaccines once they emerge in the coming months.
Earlier Monday, Brussels indicated it was signing a contract with German pharmaceutical company CureVac for another potential Covid-19 vaccine, bringing to five the number of vaccines in the bloc’s portfolio and a sixth on the way from US firm Moderna.
Belgium itself has so far signed up to receive 7.7 million doses from AstraZeneca (administered in two doses) and a further 5.5 million from Johnson & Johnson, national news agency Belga reported.
Distribution of any vaccine in EU states will only go ahead, however, once they are seen as safe and effective and that requires the green light from regulator the European Medicines Agency.
Brussels expects the first vaccines to come on stream from early next year.
A vaccine is seen as the best chance to break the cycle of deadly virus surges and severe restrictions across much of the world since Covid-19 first emerged in China late last year and ballooned into a pandemic.