Senior adviser accused of undermining Dutch vaccine programme

Jaap van Delden says bulk of 11.7 million doses of AstraZeneca jab ‘superfluous’

Jaap van Delden, head of vaccinations at  public health institute RIVM:  AstraZeneca “will soon no longer be needed”. Photograph: Joris Verwijst/BSR

Jaap van Delden, head of vaccinations at public health institute RIVM: AstraZeneca “will soon no longer be needed”. Photograph: Joris Verwijst/BSR

 

The Dutch government’s senior adviser on vaccinations has been accused of undermining the coronavirus inoculation programme by apparently accepting that millions of doses of the controversial AstraZeneca jab due in the country next month will remain largely unused.

Jaap van Delden, head of vaccinations at the public health institute, RIVM, said at the weekend that because AstraZeneca was being given only to those between 60 and 64, just 1.5 million doses had so far been used – with some resistance among that age group.

However, the Netherlands, he revealed, had ordered another 11.7 million doses of the jab, most of which were due to be delivered in the middle of May – and the bulk of which would now be “superfluous” once initial AstraZeneca recipients were given a second shot.

On that basis, and with other options coming on stream, said Mr van Delden – whose management of the national vaccination programme has been widely regarded as chaotic – AstraZeneca “will soon no longer be needed”.

Barrage of criticism

Most controversially, he went on: “People who don’t take the AstraZeneca shot now may be eligible for a different vaccine later this year.”

Mr van Delden (42) faced a barrage of criticism on Monday, the toughest coming from the family doctors’ association which said: “This message is really not helpful. It is making it more difficult for doctors to ensure a high turnout for the vaccination.”

The doctors said that in response to Mr van Delden, they wished to make their position clear: “If the choice is AstraZeneca now or possibly another vaccine later, then the choice should absolutely be for AstraZeneca now.”

This is also the view of the European Medicines Agency, based in Amsterdam.

Noting research by two Rotterdam GPs showing that only between 30 and 40 per cent of people in some city areas turned out to be vaccinated, the doctors’ association called for a targeted public information campaign designed to reach those who didn’t tune into mainstream media.

Hospitals under pressure

Research by I&O earlier this month had similar findings: that more than four out of 10 people over the age of 60 and eligible to be vaccinated said they did not want the AstraZeneca jab.

In the background, intensive-care doctors are coming under increasing pressure. One group has written to the department of health warning that their wards are full, that physical and emotional strain on staff is intolerable, and that they “are considering stopping”.

The national chair of intensive-care doctors, Diederik Gommers, said he had been warned of a “code black” in some hospitals from this week, where medics could be forced to choose between patients needing intensive-care beds – something that has not happened since the pandemic began.