NL must speed up Covid vaccinations, ICU expert says as concerns about UK strain rise
The Netherlands needs to vaccinate its residents against the coronavirus as quickly as possible, Ernst Kuipers of the Dutch network for acute care LNAZ said in a briefing to parliament on Tuesday. He raised concerns about the B117 strain of the coronavirus, which is wreaking havoc in the United Kingdom, saying that "no single healthcare system" can cope with the coronavirus spreading that fast.
"Vaccinate now, do not leave vaccines behind. We need to speed up," Kuipers said to parliament. The pressure in hospitals is already high, he said. "Many healthcare providers see that regular non-Covid care is being compromised," Kuipers said. He added that the vaccination of acute care personnel already helped. "95 percent have been vaccinated."
Jaap van Dissel of public health institute RIVM also called the spread of the B117 strain alarming, partly because the virus is currently still spreading in the United Kingdom despite the lockdown measures there. "You just don't want that English version," he told parliament, adding that "we can assume" the strain already spread throughout Europe.
In a a letter to parliament on Wednesday, Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health announced that the vaccination of some vulnerable groups will be moved up by one to two weeks. From next week, the residents at 12 healthcare institutions focused on geriatric care and care for people with mental disabilities will be vaccinated. He expected that 15 vulnerable people will be vaccinated next week. The group of employees who administer the vaccinations on location, can also themselves be vaccinated with the same type of vaccine, De Jonge said.
De Jonge expects that 155 thousand people who are either living in a nursing home, or who have an intellectual disability and live in another 24-hour care facility will be vaccinated by the end of March, two months ahead of schedule. And a timetable provided by the government showed that the other 77 thousand vulnerable residents of these institutions will be vaccinated by early April, nearly three months faster than expected.
Adults above the age of 60 and living at home will start getting vaccines in mid-February, instead of mid-March. If all goes according to plan, this part of the population should all be vaccinated by the end of July, six weeks ahead of schedule.
This follows multiple pleas from the Health Council to first vaccinate the elderly against the coronavirus. "People aged 60 years and older have the greatest risk of serious illness and death from Covid-19," and vaccinating this group first will give the biggest healthcare gains, the Health Council said earlier this week, urging the government to reserve 90 percent of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to inoculate people over the age of 60 against Covid-19, starting with the oldest first.
People between the ages of 18 and 60 with other medical conditions will also get vaccinated earlier than initially planned, starting in mid-February. This round of vaccinations should be done by March 31, four months ahead of schedule. Healthy people in this age group will start getting vaccinated in May, two to four weeks later than planned, but the goal is still to vaccinate them all by end September.
De Jonge also revealed that the Netherlands has agreed to purchase its share of roughly 7.3 million more vaccine doses it will acquire as part of the European Union’s new deal with Pfizer/BioNTech. The country also exercised some of its own options for the manufacturer’s product. The country will now acquire 19.5 million doses of the vaccine in total through the end of the year, almost twice as many as stated in the last update to Parliament. The acquisition will be accelerated by over 20 percent in the first quarter, with over 14 million doses planned for delivery from April through September.
De Jonge said he will purchase any available surplus doses if EU Member States decline to buy their fair share in Europe’s negotiated deal. The acceleration is partially due to the approval of manufacturing facilities in Austria and Germany. The country may actually have additional doses in stock because of new guidelines about the amount of doses which can be withdrawn from a single vial, he stated.
“I am also confident that the AstraZeneca vaccine will soon be admitted to the European market,” De Jonge said. “The prospects are also positive with regard to Janssen’s vaccine. The Netherlands has purchased part of the surplus of this vaccine that other countries have not purchased (3.5 million vaccines).”
The country expects 32 thousand doses of the Moderna vaccine in January, and then 190 thousand in February. Moderna is in negotiations with the European Union to sell more doses to the Member States, but De Jonge said he will not purchase more at this time because delivery is not expected until the fourth quarter. The minister is gambling that the Netherlands will have already acquired more volume from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson subsidiary Janssen, making the excess Moderna doses unnecessary.