The Netherlands is officially the last EU country to be vaccinating their population, and Roel Coutinho, former director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Control at RIVM, has called it “embarrassing”.
“You can see how urgent the need is. It is important to start quickly. We as the Netherlands should be able to do that anyway,” he says.
Coutinho emphasised that the longer vaccinations are delayed, the longer people will go unprotected and the more pressure will be put on the healthcare system, reports NOS.
“That is not only detrimental to people with COVID, but also to people with other diseases. It’s dramatic to say, but of course, this is going to cost lives. Every week counts.”
The former director explained that the cabinet was relying too heavily on existing vaccination plans for influenza, and realised too late that these would not work for the coronavirus. “The planning only started later. Now we are paying the price.”
Healthcare workers first
Most countries in Europe will prioritise vaccinating the elderly and vulnerable groups first. However, the Netherlands has chosen to begin vaccinating employees of nursing homes, care for the disabled, and community nursing. These will start on January 18 in 25 different locations.
Coutinho disagrees with the cabinet’s priorities. “The Health Council leaves no room for doubt: ‘start with the people who are most at risk, the group that will be hit the hardest.’ The moment you deviate from scientifically substantiated advice, you must have good arguments,” he says.
Minister Hugo de Jonge’s reasoning for the cabinet’s decision is that safety and care are paramount in the Netherlands. Coutinho does not see this as an argument at all, saying, “This is the case in all countries.”
Bureaucracy and logistics
De Jonge has also expressed that the registration and transportation of the vaccine is problematic, as it must remain frozen until use. Coutinho argues that “the registration cannot be a reason for delay,” and that “Logistics cannot be an argument to deviate from the scientific substantiation of an advice.”
The former RIVM director believes that too much bureaucracy is taking place at the expense of the Dutch. “People have to fully understand the consequences of what you do. RIVM is about planning, but currently, I find this hard to believe.”
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