Criticism over Dutch ill-preparedness for vaccine distribution, 'nothing to indicate that we are ready'
The Dutch people will not be vaccinated before January, announced the GGD, the organization for Dutch municipal health services. Experts have primarily blamed this on ill-preparedness. Meanwhile, other European countries such as Germany, France, and Denmark plan to start vaccinations before the end of the year.
After being pressured by Germany, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) decided on Tuesday to decide on the authorization of the corona vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech on 21 December. That is more than a week earlier than expected. Yet, according to the Dutch Ministry of Health, the first vaccine will not be administered before 18 January in the Netherlands.
In the UK and US, the first injections were given a few days after the vaccine was approved, but in the Netherlands, it would take another two weeks after the EMA’s approval on 21 December, says the GGD. “Until now, we have always said that we will start in the course of January, and that will remain so. On Monday, there will be a further specification of what we are going to do,” says GGD spokeswoman Sonja Kloppenburg.
The Dutch Public Health agency RIVM and the Minister of Health Hugo de Jonge have been criticized for their sluggish response. Jan Fransoo, professor of logistics at Tilburg University and Eindhoven University of Technology, says that the vaccine distribution will be the real challenge. “There is nothing to indicate that we are ready because nothing has yet been announced about which strategy the RIVM has chosen,” he denounced.
The RIVM, which has to make a decision about the right approach, is still investigating the possibilities. Fransoo thinks that this is very late, “I don’t understand the fact that RIVM is so vague about logistics. We’ve known for almost a year that these vaccines are being developed,” he says.
Hugo de Jonge, the Minister of Health, defended his approach by outlining that he prefers to be careful rather than quick. “We’re working 24/7, but in the end, make or break for the vaccination program will not depend on whether we start a week earlier, but on a careful and safe procedure. After all, due care is an important contribution to vaccination readiness,” says de Jonge.
Meanwhile in Germany
Germany has already set up mass vaccination locations. The Netherlands should have started indicating vaccination locations and training people months ago, says Fransoo. “As long as that is not known, those plans are of no use to me. There is so little known, only the cry: ‘We’re going to start’!”
In Germany, they started five months ago with distribution planning. They opened particular locations for vaccinations. Moreover, they trained extra people and called on volunteers to administer the vaccines. “There is nothing to indicate that this has already happened in the Netherlands,” laments Fransoo.
The strategy is now that care workers, the elderly, and the vulnerable get their turn first. But how you get these vaccines to the people depends on strategic choices, says Fransoo. “You can invite people to come to a central location where you vaccinate them. For example, in a stadium. We need dozens of large locations where all municipal health services in the Netherlands vaccinate on a large scale.”
It is wise to also arrange storage at these large locations. That has also been Germany’s approach. You are talking about vaccinating thousands of people a day, which means that you need a lot of stock in those places,” says Fransoo.
Another way to distribute the vaccine would be to take a decentralized approach. GPs around the country could be deployed for this. “Then, every GP vaccinates a few thousand people a week. From a logistics point of view, this would be a completely different system, which would take much longer.
Experts such as Fransoo, therefore, prefer the central approach. “If you approach it locally, you run the risk of large stock ending up in the wrong places. Since keeping the vaccine frozen will probably play a role, you don’t want to have too many locations,” he says.