SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – With everyone in the Netherlands over the age of 12 who still wants to be vaccinated now able to book an appointment, questions are being raised about what will happen in the autumn thanks to the dominance of the Delta variant of coronavirus.
And while experts do not expect a total lockdown again, we are still a long way from being able to ditch the basic social distancing rules, says virologist Alex Friedrich, a member of the government’s Outbreak Management Team.
‘There remains a risk that flare-ups could put extra pressure on the healthcare system,’ he told regional newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden. Some 89% of people in the Netherlands say they will get vaccinated, but only slightly more than half of those eligible are now fully protected.
In total, nearly 12 million people have had at least one vaccination and eight million of them are now fully jabbed, according to the most recent figures from the government’s coronavirus dashboard.
Including 12 to 17-year-olds, 15.4 million people in the Netherlands are eligible for a vaccination. The number of new coronavirus infections in the Netherlands surged from 500 a week to 10,000 when the government relaxed most of the restrictions on June 26.
Since then, festivals have been banned and clubs ordered to close their doors again and the number of new infections has fallen to between 6,000 and 7,000 day. At the same time, hospital admissions are rising again, and most those being admitted have not been vaccinated for coronavirus.
‘If restrictive measures are needed because the IC wards are full of people who could have protected themselves, then that could lead to problems in society at large,’ Roland Pierik, a senior lecturer in the philosophy of law at the University of Amsterdam, told broadcaster NOS.
Although an infection wave like last winter seems unlikely because of the growing vaccination rate, new measures are a real possibility, given the dominance of the Delta variant. And experts say flare-ups are likely in neighbourhoods or villages where the vaccination take-up rate is low.
The government has already suggested that regional and local measures may be brought in, if this is the case, but it remains to be seen if people who have been vaccinated are prepared to stick to the rules, Dick Willems, who teaches medical ethics at the University of Amsterdam, told the AD.
‘Vulnerable people who have already had treatment delayed would appear to me to be facing the greatest danger,’ Willems said. ‘You cannot continually delay because hospitals are full of coronavirus patients.’
This in particular, he said, could lead to increased tensions between those who have and have not been vaccinated.
‘Certain forms of compulsion may be necessary to make it more attractive for people to get vaccinated,’ Andre Krom, who researches the legal aspects of healthcare at Leiden University’s LUMC, told the paper.
While this could mean requiring people to show they had been vaccinated to sit at a pavement café, it could also mean asking people to spend more time at home instead, he said.
Meanwhile, the regional health boards are preparing to close some mass vaccination centres because their work is done. ‘Almost everyone who is able to be vaccinated has been either completely or partially vaccinated, has an appointment or has been invited to make one,’ the regional health board association GGD said.
‘We are planning thousands of appointments a week, but their number is now decreasing.’ In Houten, for example the mass vaccination centre will close on August 4, while the facilities at the Utrecht Jaarbeurs exhibition centre and in the Rijntuigenloods in Amersfoort will shut their doors at the end of next month.
‘Our focus now is on smaller-scale vaccinations, in all parts of each region, and in specific neighbourhoods where the vaccination rate is low,’ the spokesman said.
By last week, over 19 million vaccinations have been placed in the Netherlands and over a million appointments are scheduled for the week to Sunday July 25.