Former RIVM boss slams “embarrassingly” slow Dutch Covid vaccination plan
The former director of Dutch public health agency RIVM said it was scandalous that the Netherlands is not yet vaccinating people against Covid-19. In an interview broadcast Monday night on Nieuwsuur, Roel Coutinho said that it was “astounding” and “embarrassing” that the country will be the last in the European Union to begin inoculating the public against the disease.
The Netherlands is set to begin vaccinating people during the second week of January at three locations in the regions of Rotterdam, Utrecht and Hart voor Brabant. That will expand to 25 locations by January 18.
“You can see how urgently we need to do this. It is important to start quickly. We as the Netherlands should have been able to do that anyway,” he said.
Of particular concern, he said, was how rapidly the hospitals have again become overburdened with patients who have the coronavirus disease. There were 651 such patients in intensive care on Monday, the most since May, out of 2,573 admitted patients overall.
The patient total was 19 percent higher than a week ago, which could lead to the country having over three thousand patients during the first week of January. Acute care leader Ernst Kuipers said the situation was growing dire in every region. Hospitals are also fighting additional capacity issues because of the holidays and cold & flu season.
“And the overburdening of care will continue for longer. That is not only detrimental to people with Covid, but also to people with other diseases. It's a dramatic thing to say, but of course this is going to cost lives. Every week counts," Coutinho said.
He also found it disconcerting that the Dutch strategy seemed like it was initially meant to replicate other vaccination campaigns, like for delivering the flu vaccine. This did not take into account the complicated logistics required to mass vaccinate people using a range of products, many of which also have complex storage requirements.
"The planning only started later. Now we are paying the price."
Coutinho was also critical that the Netherlands plans to disregard the advice from the country’s national health council by vaccinating healthcare workers first and then the elderly or most vulnerable. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge previously said this was necessary because it would be too complicated to deliver the first vaccine, from Pfizer/BioNTech, to the vulnerable population.
This vaccine must be kept at temperatures of about -70 degrees Centigrade up to a few days before use. De Jonge said trying to organize those in vulnerable health to travel to a vaccination point would be too challenging and would lead to wasted vaccine doses.
“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,” Coutinho said. “Can we transport people somewhere? Can't we do that as an organized country?"