SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Health minister Hugo de Jonge has brought forward the start of the Netherlands’ Covid vaccination programme after hospitals said they would start immunising acute care staff earlier than the scheduled date of January 8.
Amsterdam’s UMC hospital said it would start vaccinating staff working with coronavirus patients as soon as it received the first batch of 5,000 Pfizer vaccines. De Jonge informed parliament by letter that the Hart voor Brabant health authority in Veghel would begin on Wednesday.
The health minister is expected to come in for criticism from MPs when they debate the cabinet’s vaccination plan on Tuesday. Originally Hart voor Brabant was one of three health board regions, together with Utrecht and Rotterdam, that were scheduled to begin vaccinating frontline healthcare workers from January 8, three days before the rest of the country.
The Netherlands is the last country in the European Union to begin immunising its population against Covid-19. Last month De Jonge dismissed calls to bring forward the programme, telling MPs it would be ‘irresponsible’ and other countries were starting earlier for ‘symbolic’ reasons.
De Jonge has already adjusted the vaccination plan several times to bring forward vaccines for people working in hospitals and nursing homes, as well as family doctors, in response to appeals from professional bodies.
A spokesman for the UMC hospital told Het Parool organising vaccines for its own personnel was ‘not a difficult task’. It will prioritise people working on the coronavirus ward, in intensive care and in the accident and emergency department.
‘We give our staff flu jabs every year. That’s slightly different but we don’t have to do a lot extra. The only thing we are dependent on is when the vaccine comes.’ The UMC is also responsible for distributing Covid-19 vaccines to other hospitals in the province of Noord-Holland.
Teachers, police officers and community wardens have also called for early vaccinations because their jobs expose them to large numbers of people.
A spokesman for teaching unions AOb told ANP news agency: ‘We realise we’re not in the first group and that healthcare should go first, but if we want to get things fully back on track soon, we should make sure teaching staff are vaccinated as quickly as possible.’
Unions representing the police and community enforcement officers said their members should receive the vaccine as soon as possible given their status as ‘vital’ professions. Ruud Kruin, chair of the association of community wardens’ union, said: ‘They have a lot of contact with other people which means they are at greater risk of being infected with coronavirus.’
On Saturday health minister Hugo de Jonge agreed to reserve the first 30,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine for ambulance crews, accident and emergency staff and those working on Covid wards and in intensive care. Family doctors have also been added to the priority list.