The EU will begin vaccinating officials in exclusive vaccine centers in Brussels this month, a process it insists will remain in line with Belgian vaccine rules.
Despite failures in rolling out coronavirus jabs across the bloc, the Brussels-based institutions have taken solid preparations to vaccinate their own officials. The European Commission, Council of the EU and European Parliament plan to open their vaccination centers for officials and MEPs on March 22, officials told POLITICO.
That coincides with the date the Brussels region plans to make coronavirus shots available to younger people with underlying health conditions. Until now, they have mainly been available to health care workers and care home residents.
Each of the three main EU institutions has built up its own facility to administer inoculations, which officially count as Belgian vaccination centers that receive their doses from local authorities but are exclusively accessible to those employed by the EU institutions.
Officials from other EU bodies including the European External Action Service and the European Economic and Social Committee will also receive shots from the centers.
“Provided that we get the vaccines delivered according to plan, the EU institutions’ vaccination centers will open on March 22,” said an official from the office of Alain Maron, the Brussels region minister in charge of the vaccination rollout.
As of Monday, just 618,000 people in Belgium — or 5.4 percent of the population — had received their first vaccine dose, significantly less than in the U.K. which has offered a first coronavirus shot to over 22 million people or over 33 percent of its population. However, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview published Monday that the number of vaccine doses available in the EU is expected to double as of next month.
Belgium entered Phase 1B of its vaccination strategy this week, moving from inoculating people in retirement homes and health care workers to the next priority groups.
In the Brussels region that will involve people over 75 years old this week and probably also those above 65 next week, before moving to “vulnerable” persons March 22. That category includes all residents above 18 years with a serious disease such as blood cancer, or people over 45 who suffer from issues such as obesity or chronic respiratory problems.
The Commission previously estimated that nearly 10 percent of its Brussels-based staff — 2,000 out of 21,000 people — qualify in the vulnerable category, but this figure is currently being revised following the latest Belgian rules on who counts as vulnerable.
“The Commission staff will get vaccinated in line with the vaccination campaigns adopted by our respective hosting states,” a spokesperson said, confirming that Brussels authorities had told the Commission that was set to commence March 22.
“The staff members concerned have been requested to substantiate their vulnerable status with adequate documentation earlier this year,” the spokesperson added.
The Parliament and Council could not immediately say how many staff qualify as vulnerable, but confirmed the March 22 date has been “discussed” with Brussels authorities.
The EU institutions could soon move to vaccinate an even broader share of their staff. Belgian authorities plan to authorize the vaccination of “essential workers” — a criterion that could potentially be applied to MEPs and many Eurocrats — in April, though the exact date still needs to be confirmed.
A NATO official said that the security alliance had also set up its own vaccination center in its Brussels-based headquarters, which follows Belgian rules. The official could not confirm a start date for administering inoculations at NATO: “Our preparations continue, and we remain in close touch with the Belgian authorities.”
David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.