Facing broad criticism, the government of the Netherlands on Saturday said the country would speed up its lagging vaccination process and provide the first shots to frontline health care workers.
Most nations elsewhere in Europe started their vaccination processes last week. The first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in the Netherlands a week ago.
The country, one of the richest and best organized in Europe, has been facing a reckoning during the pandemic; years of economization and systematic overregulation there have caused myriad organizations to work against one another.
The Netherlands has been in lockdown since Dec. 14, and only very recently has the country’s infection rate gone down slightly. The number of cases there is still among the highest in Europe, with an average of 51 cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, which is about the same average as in the U.S. state of Florida.
The country’s minister of health, Hugo de Jonge, had insisted that vaccinations could begin only on Jan. 8, saying that his ministry needed time for proper preparations. But in a turnaround on Saturday, the Dutch government said that the process needed to be expedited, and, pressured by health experts, added frontline health care workers to the list of those first in line to receive the vaccinations, citing in a statement the “worrying situation in acute care.” Previously, the policy had prioritized care home workers, not those most at-risk in hospitals.
The government said it would announce on Monday when the first shots would be given.
Several health officials and hospitals have stated that they are ready now to start administering the vaccines. The hospital Catharina Ziekenhuis in Eindhoven told the public broadcaster NOS that inoculations could begin as soon as the vaccines arrive on site.
The United Nations Statistics Division collects vital statistics from around the world. In North and most of South America, Europe and Oceania, it says at least 90 percent of deaths are registered. In Asia, coverage is patchier.
But for most African countries, the U.N. has no death data at all.