First coronavirus vaccination in the Netherlands on January 8
On Thursday evening, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge announced that the first coronavirus vaccination in the Netherlands would take place on Friday, January 8.
Dutch government announces January 8 as vaccination start date
Earlier this month, De Jonge announced plans to start rolling out the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine in the first week of January, with the hope that the vaccine would be approved and the infrastructure put in place to start vaccinations on January 4. Now, that date has been pushed back slightly.
According to the Netherlands’ vaccination strategy, the first people to receive the vaccine will be employees in nursing homes and other care facilities, and once the Netherlands Health Council has been provided with more information from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and European Commission, more details about the vaccination strategy will be announced.
The first 500.000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be delivered before the end of the year. The Dutch government has put together a plan with the GGD and National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM). By January 18, the GGD will have set up 25 vaccination locations across the country.
Other EU countries to vaccinate in December - why is the Netherlands waiting?
The United Kingdom started rolling out the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine at the beginning of December, and on Wednesday, President of the European Commission Urusla von der Leyen announced that EU countries could start vaccinating their populations against COVID-19 on December 27, 28, and 29, saying, “We protect our citizens together. We are stronger together.”
The EMA is expected to announce the final decision about the Pfizer vaccine on Monday, December 21, and the European Commission will announce their decision about the vaccine’s market authorisation before Christmas.
So why is the Netherlands waiting until January to start vaccinations? According to De Jonge, it’s because the GGD isn’t ready to start a nationwide roll-out in December. The IT system required for planning and registering all the vaccinations will not be ready by the end of the year, as it requires information from the EMA that is not yet available, and will also have to include medical notes and information (i.e. any allergies) for everyone. In addition to this, the system will have to be trialled and tested before it can be used.
De Jonge faces criticism from MPs
A parliamentary debate was held on Thursday evening after De Jonge broke the vaccination news. He faced criticism from other politicians for the late starting date. When asked why the GGD wasn’t ready in spite of the time they’d had to prepare, De Jonge said it would be irresponsible to start vaccinations earlier, and that being able to start on January 8 was “an amazing achievement.”
Italy has stated they will start rolling out the vaccine before the end of 2020 in what they’re calling a “symbolic start.” But De Jonge said this would not be a good move for the Netherlands: “[I spoke] with the RIVM and the GGD: can we make a symbolic start earlier? But I let myself be convinced by the services: they want to do it very carefully. The GGD said: "We don't like symbolism".”
Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders called it “an embarrassment” that the Netherlands wasn’t ready to start vaccinating at the same time as its European neighbours: “We have known for months that a vaccine is coming, such an IT system should be ready by now. We are running behind again.” Socialist Party leader Lilian Marijnissen also questioned how it was possible that the Netherlands wasn’t ready: “Did we start too late again?”