The Netherlands started vaccinating this month as the last EU country and lags far behind other countries. That was different in 2009. Then we were the first country to start vaccination against swine flu and we were the first to finish, confirms Angela Hume, who led the vaccination at the time.
As a lieutenant colonel and army physician, Hume was asked by the Minister of Health to roll out the vaccination campaign. “When we started, there was nothing. Within two months we had everything ready and when the vaccines were in, the general practitioners could start vaccinating the next day.” In six weeks, millions of Dutch people were vaccinated.
Last December, Nieuwsuur showed that the Ministry of Health (VWS) was planning to start vaccinating only 18 January, while the vaccine was already available by Christmas. The start date has been brought forward after criticism, but large numbers are not yet met. In total, some 135,000 people have been vaccinated; proportionately in the European Union only Bulgaria is doing worse.
“ I am a doctor so when I see that the Netherlands is at the bottom, it makes me emotional,” says Hume. “People from the risk groups can still become infected and die from it. I find it very painful to see that they are still not all vaccinated.”
Microbiologist Roel Coutinho was director of the Center for Infectious Disease Control at RIVM in 2009. He “gets sad” that only 135,000 people have been vaccinated. “People over 60 are at greatest risk of getting seriously ill. Vaccination of them is only now starting very slowly.”
Ministry needs help Hume not
Coutinho believes that this time the ministry should have put the military in charge. “At the time, the Ministry had a sensible Director-General who understood that we should not do this yourself and that the RIVM knows too little about logistics. He then continued that there would be very important functions for the Defense Department. They had experience in acute, ever-changing situations. You have to have it, its logistics.”
Hume was asked by the Ministry of Health last November to lead the vaccination again together with her main colleague at the time. In the end, the Ministry turned down their help anyway. Hume doesnt know why. “I think people were convinced that they could do it in their own way.”
Recently, the ministry received strong criticism from vaccination experts and from the House of Representatives. As the main reason for the relative slowness, Minister Hugo mentioned the Young logistical problems surrounding the Pfizer vaccine.
In November it became clear that Pfizer vaccine became the first to be available. It must be stored frozen and therefore cannot be easily offered in nursing homes. That is why the strategy had to be changed: not elderly people were vaccinated first, as the Health Council advises, but caregivers.
According to Hume, thats not an argument. “At the time, we were also dealing with a vaccine that had to be transported at certain temperatures. That didnt matter to us. We saw it as a military operation that had to be completed in time. The Ministry of VWS was in charge and we carried out. That seems to be different now. The direction seems to be missing.”
In England, cathedrals are also arranged as vaccination sites:
The GGDs were also asked late if they wanted to carry out the national vaccination campaign. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Minister De Jonge have also acknowledged this. Due to this late assignment from the ministry, the search for staff and locations was started only in December.
In order to make a more hurry with the vaccination, De Jonge has released this week the policy that there is a second in stock for every first prick. As a result, a lot more people can be vaccinated faster. Hundreds of thousands of doses are still in the freezer and there are 200,000 of Pfizer every week.
VWS is floating
Hume thinks the Departments getting the doses into arms too slowly. “The ministry is normally on the quay, but now it is war and VWS is the flagship to lead. In my opinion, VWS is bobbing, also because the strategy changes every day. It is precisely because of our military planning that we are accustomed to dealing with constantly changing circumstances.”
Coutinho: “VWS is a policy ministry that is not fit to lead a logistics operation in an acute situation. Leaving logistics powerful people in the lead turned out to be a golden choice in 2009, which worked very well.”