De Jonge: Approval of coronavirus vaccine is a "triumph for science"
On Monday, December 21, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the Pfizer / BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use in the EU in what Health Minister Hugo de Jonge called “a triumph for science.”
But, with the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus, and news that many healthcare workers aren’t keen to be vaccinated, what does this mean for the Netherlands?
Will the coronavirus vaccine work against any mutations?
While many see the development and approval of a vaccine as a major breakthrough, the news of a new and highly contagious strain of COVID-19 has left many worried about the effectiveness of vaccines against any mutations of the virus. But Pfizer and BioNTech are confident that their vaccine will work against this new mutation.
BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told German news agency DPA that he was optimistic about the vaccine: “We have already tested the vaccine on about twenty other virus variants with different mutations. The immune response elicited by our vaccine has always inactivated all virus forms.” BioNTech is carrying out tests to determine whether this new strain will be immune to the vaccine, and say they will know for sure whether or not their vaccine is effective against it in the first week of January.
Should the vaccine prove ineffective against this new strain, Sahin said that the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine could, in principle, be adapted quickly to work against mutated variants of coronavirus.
A significant number of Dutch nurses don't want the vaccine
As outlined in the government’s vaccination strategy, the first people to receive the vaccine in the Netherlands aren’t the vulnerable or the elderly, but instead those working in healthcare: nurses in care homes and nursing homes, for example. However, a recent poll conducted by the Netherlands Trade Union Confederation (FNV) has revealed that a significant number of nurses do not want to receive the vaccine.
According to the FNV’s poll, over a fifth of staff members working in nursing homes and other care facilities say they “definitely” do not want to be vaccinated, and a further 13 percent said they “think” they don’t want to be vaccinated. Another 18 percent are unsure. Vice-chairman of the FNV, Kitty Jong, said healthcare workers felt like “guinea pigs” and were concerned about how quickly the vaccine has been developed and whether there were any potential (long-term) side effects.
The survey was conducted among over 9.000 employees in the care and welfare sector. Of those surveyed, around 56 percent said they would (probably) receive the vaccine.
De Jonge hopes to reassure the public
Following EMA’s announcement, De Jonge said that the approval of the vaccine did not change anything about the Netherlands’ vaccination schedule - the first vaccinations will take place on January 8 - but that it was a “huge milestone” in the fight against coronavirus.
He did, however, acknowledge concerns about potential side effects, but said the government wouldn’t be cutting any corners, and wants to ensure the vaccines are administered safely and carefully. He hopes this thorough approach will waylay fears. The Dutch government is also planning to publish full-page advertisements in national newspapers in an attempt to inform and reassure the public about the vaccines.
“The EMA and the Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board (MEB) only approve a vaccine if the efficacy, quality, and safety have been demonstrated. And that is now a fact for this vaccine,” the ad says, “Coronavirus vaccines must meet the same strict requirements as other vaccines. Safety is paramount. Development and evaluation are faster than usual. This is possible because worldwide research into vaccines is carried out simultaneously and knowledge is shared. That saves time.”
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