De Jonge: No changes to Dutch vaccination schedule yet; Delays possible
Caretaker Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said he has no plans to change the country's current Covid-19 vaccination strategy, even though he was repeatedly criticized by healthcare officials in the Netherlands. De Jonge said that the country met its target for vaccinations last week, despite estimates from the RIVM which showed otherwise, and that the window to schedule an appointment for a jab has been extended to people in their fifties.
At a press conference on Tuesday, De Jonge claimed that 630 thousand vaccine doses were given last week, pushing the total up to 3.9 million doses to date. Preliminary data from public health agency RIVM showed otherwise, suggesting that fewer than 430 thousand doses were administered last week, and nearly 3.2 million injections were given in total, but a spokesperson for the RIVM told NL Times that the office was struggling with IT issues and was revising their estimate.
The country's coronavirus dashboard was revised to show 3.9 million doses administered one hour after the press conference ended. Newspaper AD pointed out that the Netherlands has taken delivery on over 4.5 million vaccine doses since December.
"We are vaccinating as fast as we can," De Jonge said. He did concede that some people may have to wait longer for a vaccine, and the minister took a slight step back from his stance that all adults would be offered one vaccine dose by July 1.
Vaccine delays caused by AstraZeneca situation
If the Netherlands is behind its target for vaccinations, De Jonge said on Tuesday, it was because of AstraZeneca delivery vaccine, and the decision to stop giving the vaccine to people under 60 in the Netherlands. That decision was made after the European Medicines Agency said there was a risk of a serious side effect where blood clots form in combination with a low platelet count after use of the vaccine. The EMA also said country should continue to use the vaccine in adults because fewer than .001 percent of people suffered from the side effect.
"I have to act on the basis of the information I have. I pressed the pause button on AstraZeneca as a precaution," he said. "Above the age of 60 it is a safe and strong vaccine. There are plenty of alternatives for people under the age of 60," he said. He was adamant that this policy remain in place at least into next month because people over 60 need a vaccination the most.
Intensive care leader Ernst Kuipers said a day earlier he found it "incomprehensible" that De Jonge suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in conflict with the EMA's advice. He argued that people under 60 should be told what the risks are, and given a choice to receive the vaccine. Members of Parliament from parties including Labour and D66 agreed.
Communications experts have also said the country's message on vaccines has grown muddled, with many people over 60 now wondering why they should take a vaccine that De Jonge thinks is not safe enough for younger people. But De Jonge said he has a duty to be "very transparent about the possible health risks."
No comment on Janssen vaccine blood clot study
One vaccine which was hoped to fill the gap caused by the suspension is the Janssen jab, developed in Leiden for Johnson & Johnson. However use of that vaccine was suspended in the U.S. over the same blood clot issue the EMA linked to the AstraZeneca candidate. The company made the surprise announcement it would stop delivering vaccines to Europe until the review of new data is completed.
The Netherlands received 72 thousand doses of the Janssen vaccine on Monday, with over 2.9 million more due by June 30. For now, use of the vaccine will depend on advice from the EMA. "In general, nothing has changed in the vaccination schedule that we have. At Janssen I cannot say exactly what the impact is. Janssen itself has made the decision to suspend the delivery."
Should the Netherlands have to shelve or adjust plans because of an unexpected decision regarding the Janssen vaccine, the ministry will work to purchase available vaccine doses from other suppliers, like Pfizer.
"Money is not the problem when it comes to vaccines," he said.
Data submitted this week by the Health Ministry to European officials also put the estimate close to 3.2 million administered doses, and showed the Netherlands lagging behind 21 of the 30 European Economic Area countries.