Dutch play catch-up in Europe's patchy Covid-19 vaccine drive

Dutch Play Catch-Up In Europe's Patchy Covid-19 Vaccine Drive
Europe began its vaccination drive on December 27th but it has had an uneven start. Photo: PA Images.
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By Piroschka van de Wouw

A nurse received the first Covid-19 shot in the Netherlands on Wednesday, kicking off one of Europe's last vaccination programmes as the European medicines regulator considered approving a second vaccine.

Approval of the Moderna vaccine would be a big boost for Europe's hopes of curbing a disease that has infected over 85 million people globally and killed nearly 1.9 million since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.


Europe began its vaccination drive on December 27th but it has had an uneven start as cases continue to surge across the continent and worldwide.

The World Bank has warned that rising infections and delays in vaccine distribution could limit the global economic recovery to just 1.6 per cent this year.

Authorities are also scrambling to contain two more infectious variants of the virus detected in South Africa and Britain, which have driven a surge in cases.

Public outcry

The Dutch government has faced a public outcry after being left behind in the race to defeat the viral pandemic, and finally launched its vaccination drive on Wednesday morning.


DuSanna Elkadiri, a 39-year-old nurse who looks after dementia patients at a care home in the south of the country, received a shot of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

"This is the beginning of the end of this crisis," health minister Hugo de Jonge said at a brief ceremony.

Prime minister Mark Rutte said the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine used by the Netherlands had received regulatory approval sooner than expected and that his government had expected a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca to be approved first, reducing the Dutch authorities' flexibility.

So far, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the only one approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) though Moderna's vaccine — which is easier to store and transport — is expected to become the second to win its endorsement later on Wednesday.


The roll-out has been a test for Brussels' ability to unify Europe amid political pressure to speed up the process.

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Some EU member states were frustrated at the length of time the EMA took to decide on the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, leaving it lagging behind the United States, Britain, Israel and Switzerland in approving and administering the first vaccines.

The regulator has given a conditional marketing approval, rather than the ultra-fast emergency use approval issued by Britain, which it says requires more detailed study of the data.

The two-dose Moderna vaccine has already been rolled out in the United States and Canada, and Israel this week became the first country outside North America to grant authorisation.

It was about 95 per cent effective at preventing illness in clinical trials that found no serious safety issues.

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