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Experts are confident delaying second coronavirus jab is ‘safe’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The decision to postpone the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by two weeks so more people can be vaccinated in the first round is ‘not ideal’, experts have said, but is inevitable in the light of the threat posed by the more infectious B-117 variant.

Health institute RIVM initially put the recommended time between vaccinations at 19 to 28 days, based on the timeline adopted by Pfizer, but health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Wednesday that is now being extended to up to 42 days.

Marc Kapitein, director of Pfizer NL, told television talk show Op1 on Wednesday evening that approval for the vaccine is based on an interval of 21 days and that is what is officially recommended.

‘That 21 days did not come out of thin air,’ he said. ‘…Then we can guarantee 95% efficacy. If you extend it, we can’t give that guarantee. At the same time, given the risks of the British variant, it is understandable that that decision has been taken.’

Professor of immunology Marjolein van Egmond told broadcaster NOS that to postpone the second vaccination is ‘not ideal’ but safe. ‘The second jab is very important but to postpone it for a couple of weeks won’t make a huge difference,’ she said.

The Dutch medicines evaluation board CBG, which was involved in approving the vaccine, has also said it is not expecting the postponement to compromise efficacy, a spokesman told NOS.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge made the move based on the joint recommendation of the Outbreak Management Team and the national health council.


At Wednesday’s press conference, De Jonge particularly stressed the threat of new, more contagious strains. The B-117 strain first encountered in Britain now accounts for some 10% of infections and the RIVM has warned it may become the dominant strain in the Netherlands by March.

None of the parties is in favour of a longer wait than six weeks, as has been done in Britain, which could, the OMT said, result in ‘a sub-optimal protection between the first and the second vaccination’.

The new government vaccine information confirms the new schedule will apply to people who have not yet been vaccinated. Vaccinations of people who have had the first jab and who have already been scheduled for the second dose, will go ahead as planned.

De Jonge told Wednesday’s press conference the much-criticised Dutch vaccination programme will really speed up when the Astra Zeneca vaccine comes online. ‘That is the real game changer,’ he said.

The Netherlands has gone in big on the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and expects 4.5 million doses in the first quarter of the year and a further 5.2 million shots in the second quarter.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to complete its assessments of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the end of January.



When is it your turn to get vaccinated? The schedule so far

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – So when will it be your turn to get the coronavirus vaccine? The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which are currently being rolled out in the Netherlands, are primarily aimed at protecting the most vulnerable groups in society.

If you are not among them, the most likely vaccine to – eventually – enter your bloodstream will be the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, which, approval pending, is expected to be ready for action later next month.

Not that it matters, because you do not get to choose your vaccine (see below). When it’s time for your population group to be vaccinated, you’ll get an invitation, either by letter or email.

It will say what you have to take with you (such as your ID). It will also tell you where you can get the vaccination. This could be at a large vaccination centre run by the regional health service (GGD), at your doctor’s office or, for instance, in a nursing home.

Vaccinations are free and not compulsory. So, when can you expect to get your letter or email inviting you to bare arms? Here’s the official schedule so far.

From January 6:

Staff working in (small scale) residential homes Staff working in disabled care District nurses and other home support staff Acute (COVID) care hospital and ambulance staff

From January 18:

Residents in care homes and people with mental disabilities (Pfizer/BioNTech)

From January 25:

People who live in (small scale) residential homes and care homes for the disabled. (Moderna) People aged 90 and over living at home and who are mobile. (Pfizer/BioNTech) Family doctors (Moderna)

From February 1:

People aged between 85 and 90 living at home and who are mobile. (Pfizer/BioNTech)

From February 15:

Psychiatric patients in residential care. (Moderna) People aged 60 plus who are housebound. (Moderna) People between 18 and 60 with a medical indication. (AstraZeneca) People from age 60 living at home and who are mobile (Pfizer/BioNTech)

From May:

Everyone between 18 and 60 without medical indications. (AstraZeneca) Young children and teens up to 18 will not be vaccinated because not all vaccines have been tested for this age group. Pfizer/BioNTech is the only vaccine that is suitable for people from 16 and upwards. Research is underway to determine if a safe vaccine for children can be developed.

Source: Rijksoverheid

More information from Government.nl. Please note this has not been updated to reflect the decision to speed up the vaccination programme be extending the gap between the first and second doses.



MPs debate coronavirus curfew, many have doubts about the impact

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – MPs will on Thursday morning debate the caretaker cabinet’s decision to introduce a curfew in the Netherlands in an effort to keep more virulent strains of coronavirus at bay.

Prime minister Mark Rutte announced plans for the curfew at a special press conference on Wednesday afternoon, but said it is up to parliament to decide if it should come into effect or not.

‘No one wants a curfew, no one is cheering,’ Rutte said. Nevertheless, ‘we have to grit our teeth one more time, now all the experts are warning about a third wave.’ Last year, a majority of MPs backed a motion by far-right MP Geert Wilders which was against the introduction of a curfew, and coalition party D66 is known to still have doubts.

Last week, D66 parliamentary party leader Rob Jetten said the idea of a curfew was ‘out of all proportion’. During the press conference, Rutte appealed to MPs directly. ‘We don’t have the luxury of being 100% sure [it will work] but we are absolutely convinced that there is no alternative,’ he said.

‘This is a very severe measure, but we are at a crucial point for both public safety and healthcare.’ The Netherlands has been in a lockdown since mid-December, but the number of coronavirus infections is not going down as fast as healthcare experts would like, and the more infectious version of the virus first identified in Britain is now taking hold.

The debate should have taken place on Wednesday afternoon but was delayed to Thursday on the request of D66 and minor coalition party ChristenUnie. NOS political correspondent Ron Frensen said it is likely parliament will back the idea of a curfew, if ministers can properly support their decision with facts.

However, MPs are likely to want to push up the start time from 8.30 pm to later in the evening as a compromise, he said.



Dutch speed up vaccination programme by delaying second jab

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Health minister Hugo de Jonge has decided to speed up the Dutch coronavirus vaccination programme by releasing vaccines being held in reserve for second doses for use now, following criticism of the slow Dutch progress.

‘This means that more people can be vaccinated earlier, which is very important given the rise of the ‘British’ variant,’ De Jonge told Wednesday’s press conference. ‘But we are really going to be able to speed up when the Astra Zeneca vaccine comes online.

That is the real game changer.’ The Netherlands has gone in big on the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and expects 4.5 million doses in the first quarter of the year and a further 5.2 million shots in the second quarter.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to complete its assessments of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the end of January. De Jonge also said he was well aware of various rankings showing that the Netherlands has vaccinated far fewer people than other EU countries.

One reason is due to slow reporting and work is being done to speed that up, De Jonge said. To date, he said, the Netherlands has vaccinated 100,000 people. On Tuesday, De Jonge said that the entire stock of Moderna vaccines will now be released for earlier use, which means family doctors will also be earlier in line for the jab.

The change of policy means that people over the age of 90 who still live at home will be called up for their vaccination from next week and that it will be the turn of 85-year-olds in the first week of February.

De Jonge said delaying the second dose until the sixth week did not present a risk to public health and the new deadline is within the official guidelines.



Curfew on the cards for this weekend, no flights from UK or South Africa

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands aims to bring in a curfew this weekend which will run from 8.30 pm to 4.30 am, but it is up to parliament to decide if it should go ahead, prime minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Given it will take a couple of days to organise things, the curfew will not come into effect until Saturday or Sunday, if parliament votes in favour during Thursday’s debate, Rutte said.

It will run until at least February 9. In addition, the Dutch are halting all flights from Britain, South Africa and all South American countries from Saturday in a bid to stop the spread of more virulent variants of coronavirus from taking hold.

New quarantine regulations are also being worked on, including a register of all new arrivals, and spot checks will be carried out to make sure people are staying home. The flight ban will last until the compulsory quarantine has been implemented in law.

Home visits are also to be reduced from two to one within a 24-hour period from Wednesday evening, apart from people who are involved in crucial care roles. ‘All experts in the Outbreak Management Team are very clear that we have to do the maximum now,’ Rutte said.

‘Everyone is warning that the third wave must be taken seriously. We have to do our best to make sure the third wave is as small as possible.’ The coalition government is currently acting in a caretaker capacity and cannot take such major decisions without parliamentary approval, and this will be debated by MPs on Thursday.

‘I would call on all the parties to recognise that we are now at a crucial moment for our safety and public health,’ the prime minister said. ‘All we can do is say to the Netherlands and to parliament, that this is the advice we have and that we are convinced there is no alternative.’


The curfew, as currently envisaged, means no-one may be on the streets at night unless they are carrying out essential care duties or have a declaration from their employer.

Dog owners may walk their pets – but not share the same dog around. The curfew also means supermarkets and other shops will have to close their doors earlier, Rutte said. However, food delivery services can continue, as long as the worker has a declaration.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge said the infection figures are going down but not by enough. The more infectious variant of the virus first identified in Britain now accounts for one in 10 cases but will have gone up to five in 10 by February, he said.

‘The current coronavirus rules are not enough to keep the new variants under control,’ he said. ‘We have seen how dramatically things can change in Britain and Ireland.’



Slow start: the Dutch had vaccinated 77,000 people by end Sunday

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Public health institute RIVM is to publish weekly figures stating how many people have been vaccinated in the previous seven days every Tuesday from now on.

The Netherlands started its vaccination on January 6 and has been slow to get going, leading to criticism of the lack of urgency from both health experts and MPs. The agency said on Tuesday that 77,000 people had been vaccinated up to and including Sunday, which puts the Netherlands firmly at the bottom of the vaccination rankings.

Those vaccinated so far include 40,000 people who work in acute care services and 30,000 nursing home staff. Nursing and care home residents are next in line and the family doctor’s association said earlier on Tuesday that GPs will start being vaccinated next week.

According to broadcaster NOS, some 400,000 doses of vaccine are currently being held at the central storage in Oss – enough for 200,000 people. But speeding up the vaccination rate is not an option because those vaccines have already been allocated, a spokesman for the RIVM’s vaccination programme told NOS.

‘We are not gambling on future deliveries,’ he said. ‘We want to be able to guarantee that people will actually be able to have their second shot.’ Both the Dutch and the European medicines assessment agencies recommend against delaying the second dose.



Dutch to announce new coronavirus measures on Wednesday, curfew possible

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Health minister Hugo de Jonge has called a surprise press conference for early Wednesday afternoon during which the government will announce new measures to control the spread of coronavirus.

In particular, the growth in infections with the more virulent strain first identified in Britain is a major concern and ‘the cabinet considers it necessary to bring in extra measures as soon as possible,’ De Jonge said.

Insiders expect this means that the Netherlands will have a curfew, possibly running from 8pm to 4am, although it is unclear if there is a parliamentary majority in favour of such a move.

Coalition party D66 is known to oppose a curfew, as are the far-right parties FvD and the PVV. Other options include further limits on the number of visitors and a requirement that people remain in their own province, unless essential.

The government is discussing the introduction of a curfew with its Outbreak Management Team experts on Tuesday evening and there will be an extra cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning before the press conference, broadcaster NOS reported.

A number of government advisors have called for the introduction of a curfew, saying such a move is necessary to further reduce social contacts.



Coronavirus cases fall below 5,000 a day but more patients in hospital

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – New coronavirus cases dropped below 5,000 for the first time in six days on Monday, according to latest figures from the public health agency RIVM.

Another 4,822 infections were recorded in the 24 hours to 10am, an 11% reduction on last Monday’s figure and the lowest daily total since December 1. In the last week cases have declined by an average of 21.5% week on week.

The positive test rate has also fallen to just over 11%. However, the number of patients in hospital and in intensive care increased by 50 and 14 respectively on Monday. There are currently 2,434 people being treated for Covid-19, of whom 690 are in intensive care.

The RIVM recorded another 59 deaths, bringing the average number in the past seven days to 94, compared to 104 a week earlier. The number of nursing homes where the virus has been detected in the last two weeks has declined from 846 a week ago to 810.



Health experts ‘very worried’ about new virus strain, extra measures needed

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Government health experts say they are extremely worried about the spread of the highly contagious form of coronavirus first identified in Britain, which they estimate is now responsible for roughly 10% of Dutch cases.

It is crucial to now take measures to reduce the risks presented by the mutated form, the Outbreak Management Team say in their latest recommendations to ministers.

Some 200 cases of the B-117 variant have now been identified in the Netherlands, and three people have been found to have the strain first noted in South Africa. But the OMT now estimates some 10% of Dutch cases could involve the B-117 strain and that this could rise to over 50% in February without urgent action.

In essence, the OMT says, the Netherlands is dealing with two variations of the virus, which spread at difference speeds and therefore result in two separate epidemics.

The experts say that measures must be take ‘until we can expect a beneficial seasonal impact on the spread and an effect from groups immunity via people who have had the virus and via vaccinations’.

Ministers have already agreed that primary schools and daycare centres will not reopen as hoped on January 25. One option still on the table is that of a curfew, possibly between 8pm and 4am, which officials say would further reduce person to person contacts.

Around half of the coronavirus infections in which a source is known were picked up in the home.

Not appropriate

However, it is unclear if a majority of MPs would accept a curfew, and several regional safety board chiefs, including Amersfoort mayor Lucas Bolsius, are opposed to the idea.

‘It would not be appropriate at the moment,’ Bolsius told current affairs programme Nieuwsuur. ‘The number of infections is going down, and that includes in Amersfoort.’

He also said he felt it would be difficult for the police and council wardens to ensure people did stay home. Last week, the OMT said that it did not expect the risk level in the Netherlands could be reduced from ‘very serious’ to ‘vigilence required’ until the end of February or beginning of March. The current lockdown will run until at least February 9.



Primary schools, daycare to remain shut until at least February 8: cabinet

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Primary schools and daycare centres will not be allowed to open on January 25, as the cabinet had hoped, education minister Arie Slob confirmed on Sunday.

The decision to keep schools shut until at least February 8 is ‘unfortunately unavoidable’, Slob said, after Sunday’s meeting between ministers and health experts. ‘I realise this is a blow for teachers, parents and pupils,’ he said.

‘Helping your children with their schoolwork while you are doing your own job is very difficult to deal with.’ Slob said that ministers will talk to employers and unions about giving parents who have dual responsibilities some form of leave, and that the government will help pay for this.

In addition, Slob said that he and education experts were looking at other measures which would help pupils make up their missing education once schools were open again.

The government would make money available to fund this, he said. Schools and daycare centres are open for the children of people doing ‘essential’ jobs, such as healthcare workers, while secondary schools are open to children in exam years.

The government’s Outbreak Management Team had already indicated that reopening primary schools ahead of schedule was not an option, given that infection rates have not come down enough, and the arrival of the more infectious B-117 strain of coronavirus in the Netherlands.


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