THE HAGUE - Dutch health care authorities and the islands are aiming to, as much as possible, make a start with the vaccinating against the coronavirus in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom at the same time as in the Netherlands. The first vaccinations in the Netherlands are planned for January 8, 2021.
Dutch Minister of Public health, Welfare and Sport Hugo de Jonge stated this in a vaccination update letter that he sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Monday. In this lengthy letter, he dedicated a small part to the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom.
According to De Jonge, the input by the Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport VWS in The Hague, the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM, the countries Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, and the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba was to start the vaccination simultaneously where possible.
The islands have all drafted their own plan to carry out the coronavirus vaccination campaign. RIVM is currently assessing the plans. De Jonge explained that these plans had to contain all aspects for a safe and correct execution of the campaign, as well as the method of vaccination registration.
Since there are differences between the islands’ individual plans, it is possible that the campaign will not start at the same time on all islands. The Netherlands will be making the coronavirus vaccinations available for the six islands from its own national stock and facilitate the transport.
Several scenarios are being worked out as there are still a number of issues unclear with regard to the suitability, availability and logistic characteristics of the vaccines. In consultation with the islands, the RIVM will facilitate the various necessary and suitable (freezer/cooling) equipment to store and distribute the different vaccines locally.
The three Dutch Caribbean countries early November submitted an assistance request to the Netherlands to get an advice of the Netherlands Health Council with regard to the prioritisation of target groups for the vaccination. The Health Council provided its advice on December 7, which was forwarded to the Second Chamber on December 21.
The Health Council advised, similar to its earlier advice for Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, to give priority to people over the age of 60, medical risk groups and health care personnel. The Council mentioned a number of specific factors that would play a role in the distribution and administering of the vaccines.
Among the specific factors mentioned by the Council are: the relatively large group of undocumented persons in the countries, the limited capacity of local health care facilities and the design of the care information systems.
“An important fact is that in the countries a relatively large part of the population consists of undocumented persons, about 15 per cent. In light of public health, the non-registered residents should also have access to vaccination against COVID-19,” the Council stated.
The pressure on the hospitals in the three countries of a long-term pandemic is intense because of the shortage of personnel and limited financial means. “Vaccinating health care personnel can contribute to the continuation of care. For this reason, these employees should be vaccinated with priority.”
Because the information systems in health care on the islands are insufficiently equipped to identify medical risk groups for a priority vaccination, the Health Council advised to select groups on the basis of their age, starting with the eldest persons in society.
Logistics remain a point of concern because many vaccines need to be transported deep frozen and will be arriving on the islands in large numbers at the same time. Aside from the specific factors in the countries, the final vaccination strategy will depend on many factors, such as the characteristics of the vaccines, the availability of doses, the epidemiologic situation and the practical aspects.
Minister De Jonge stated that the RIVM will write an advice based on the advice of the Health Council, the islands’ plans, the size and composition of the population, the composition and prioritisation of the target groups. This advice will address when which vaccines will be transported to the islands, and in which numbers.
De Jonge said that in consultation with his colleague State Secretary of Public Health, Welfare and Sports Paul Blokhuis, based on the advice of the RIVM, he would take a decision on the division of the available vaccines that the Netherlands has purchased.
For now, the vaccines will be transported in special deep-freeze containers via the civil aviation procedures, meaning the regular airlines that fly to the islands. If this manner of transport proves insufficient, Dutch Defence can assist, De Jonge stated.
The RIVM on Wednesday provided a COVID-19 overview of the Dutch Caribbean. Up to December 21, there were 160 current active cases in Aruba, 2 in Bonaire, 1,679 in Curaçao, 0 in Saba, 1 in St. Eustatius and 110 in St. Maarten.
Since the start of the pandemic in March, there have been a total number of reported cases of 5,176 in Aruba, 155 in Bonaire, 3,974 in Curaçao, 5 in Saba, 19 in St. Eustatius and 1,338 in St. Maarten. The total number of hospital admissions: 272 in Aruba, 8 in Bonaire, 104 in Curaçao, 1 in Saba, 0 in St. Eustatius and 108 in St. Maarten.
The number of fatalities due to COVID-19 stands at: 47 in Aruba, 3 in Bonaire, 11 in Curaçao, 0 in Saba and St. Eustatius and 26 in St. Maarten. The number of reported cases in the week December 14 to 21 was: Aruba 120, Bonaire 1, Curaçao 313, Saba 0, St. Eustatius 1, St. Maarten 89.
There are currently 9 persons admitted at the hospital in Aruba, 0 in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, 18 in Curaçao and 7 in St. Maarten.